VT Press Bureau: Fed funds AmeriCorps in Vermont
By Neal Goswami
MONTPELIER — The state’s congressional delegation announced $2.1 million in funding for the AmeriCorps program in Vermont that will bring nearly 90 new people into the volunteer service organization.
The $2.1 million, some of which is being awarded directly to three separate entities, will allow the AmeriCorps program to expand and add to its 2,403 volunteers working at about 450 locations around the state, according to Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal entity that awarded the funds.
AmeriCorps gives volunteers “modest living stipends,” Spencer said, but more importantly, it provides scholarships for college tuition or repayment of college loans. In total, the program has provided about $3 billion toward volunteers’ higher education.
“These AmeriCorps members do such great work and they work on tough issues like hunger and illiteracy and disasters,” Spencer said. “Vermont is no exception to that. There’s so much great work in Vermont going on.”
Rep. Peter Welch joined Spencer and representatives from the offices of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders on a conference call with reporters Wednesday to announce the grants. He said all three members of the delegation “have been longtime and strong supporters” of AmeriCorps. In fact, all three voted to support the highest-ever spending levels to support volunteer and service programs in a recent spending bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December. The bill included a $39.9 million increase over the previous year for volunteer service programs.
Welch hailed the AmeriCorps program Wednesday as a way for people to contribute and a way to attract younger people to the state.
“This is like the service opportunity for young people. There is such anxiety about what’s going on in the world and country. The inspiration for me … is young people getting involved,” Welch told reporters. “They come to Vermont from places all around the country and many end up staying here. They plunge into new communities and help the poorest among us.”
The federal funding announced Wednesday includes three grants totaling $1 million that will support 86 new AmeriCorps members. Spencer said they will look to address some of the more persistent problems in Vermont, such as affordable housing, water quality and services for veterans and their family members.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation will receive $313,704 to support 24 AmeriCorps members who will look to “implement strategies to protect and improve water quality in the Lake Champlain watershed.”
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board will receive $368,669 to support 36 volunteers. They will look to deliver affordable housing and environmental stewardship and education services through 30 nonprofit groups across the state.
Lastly, the Washington County Youth Service Bureau Boys and Girls Club is set to receive $325,000 for 26 volunteers. They will provide services to veteran and military families and implement initiatives to prevent childhood obesity.
Another $653,707 has been awarded to the Vermont Commission on National and Community Service, whose members are appointed by the governor. CNCS will provide up to $462,029 in education scholarships for the new AmeriCorps volunteers to help pay for college, vocational training or pay back student loans.
Welch said the grants will allow more young AmeriCorps members to “get real responsibility.”
“When you’re getting out of college and making the transition or you’re getting out of high school, you need structure and you need the opportunity to serve and the opportunity to accept responsibility,” he said. “They start moving into the world of adult responsibility and they do it by serving others, so I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for young people.”