It’s the 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps.
Twenty years ago, former President Bill Clinton and Congress established AmeriCorps — a combination of service groups designed to provide a boost to regions throughout the United States, particularly those struggling with poverty.
Places like Athens County, where one coordinator estimates her group’s work, mostly done by Ohio University graduates, has been worth more than a million dollars.
Lauren Borovicka, program coordinator for COMCorps, an AmeriCorps affiliate aiding elementary school students, said that work is the product of 216 members serving 319,347 hours of service in Athens County. Those members have recruited an additional 5,553 volunteers to serve 50,685 hours alongside them.
That’s a $1,142,947 value, according to a rate established by the Independent Sector, a network of nonprofit organizations that Borovicka cited.
AmeriCorps members work full or part time positions for a stipend of $12,100 and an education award of $5,500 to pay for college, graduate school or student loans.
The COMCorps program, which is housed in OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine pushes nutrition education for young children, also providing vision, hearing, lice and Kindergarten registration screenings.
“The mission is health-focused to help reduce obesity in the county,” Borovicka said.
COMCorps is only one of a number of AmeriCorps affiliates in both Athens County and the U.S.
Volunteers in Service to America, known as VISTA, address poverty by developing and mobilizing resources that create long-term benefits for the area.
Athens City Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-at large, was a VISTA volunteer in Philadelphia after graduating from Otterbein College. She served as a mentoring program specialist for a group known as One to One Philadelphia.
Describing it as a formative time of her life, Cochran provided mentor training and support through a network of volunteer agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts and church-based mentoring programs.
“Though it was a challenge moving to a big city where I had no network, my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA provided me with valuable skills and experience,” Cochran said.
But not all AmeriCorps work specifically deals with poverty. Rural Action’s Ohio Stream Restore Corps focuses on environmental stewardship which includes environmental restoration, environmental education, zero waste issues and ecotourism.
“One focus is to bring tourism to the area for economic development,” said Candi Witham, the group’s director.
The program started in 2009 and sends volunteers to 14 different area sites, including state parks, nonprofits and watersheds. The group switched from state- to national-based funding sources two years ago and now supports 26 members compared to 16 in the past.
“I would guess 50 percent are Hocking (College) and OU alumni,” Witham said. “They are often the majority of our members.”
Borovicka added that 150 of COMCorps’ 216 members, past and present, have come from OU. There are 20 positions available every year.
Abby Kreager who graduated from OU in 2010, served in COMCorps in from 2012 to 2013.
During her time with COMCorps, Kreager worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a school-based program coordinator.
In that position, Kreager organized, planned and led activities in programs where high school students mentored elementary school students after school once a week. She worked in seven Athens County schools and two in Vinton and Washington counties.
At those schools, Kreager also taught a weekly nutrition class to second-grade students. The students would learn about a different culture and then the class would prepare a healthy dish related to that culture.
“Some of the obligations involved in COMCorps were not so glamorous, like doing lice checks and vision screenings in the elementary schools,” Kreager said. “Even those aspects were rewarding as I felt I was making a positive impact for the students in the county.”