Chicago -- The Corporation for National and Community Service presented nine outstanding volunteer programs and participants with the National Service Impact Award at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service today.
The National Service Impact Awards recognize the demonstrable impact made by everyday citizens who serve their communities and exemplify the best in national and community service. Awards were judged upon the impact made in the one of the six focus areas outlined in the agency's five year Strategic Plan: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.
“National service is America at its best – getting things done to make our communities and country stronger,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “The work being done every day by programs and individuals like these demonstrates the power of service to improve lives and transform communities.”
Honorees received the award at the National Service Town Hall, a CNCS-sponsored conference session focused on the outlook of National Service. For the first time, honorees include a people's choice winner, chosen by public voting on Challenge.gov, the online platform that hosts the annual awards.
The conference, sponsored by the Points of Light, brought 4,000 service leaders to Chicago to connect and develop strategies to solve pressing issues across the nation through service and volunteering.
Listed below are the recipients and their stories of service:
AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT): From the record-setting devastation of the EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin to the massive floods that covered southeast Missouri and flowed into surrounding states, the 35 full-time ERT AmeriCorps members traveled across the state and region to come to the aid of those in the path of these destructive forces of nature. In Joplin alone, AmeriCorps St. Louis ERT members have coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers to complete 2,200 homeowner service requests. The organization documented volunteer hours and the use of donated equipment contributed an economic value of over $17.8 million, off-setting the City of Joplin and the state of Missouri's required match for federal disaster funds. The ERT has deployed to disasters in more than 60 Missouri counties and 30 states.
Christopher Gonzales, Jr., Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center (SAEHC): At SAEHC, Gonzales saw firsthand how those struggling with homelessness also faced significant barriers to employment, including lack of work-appropriate clothing, limited access to computers or computer skills, and transportation issues. Gonzales developed a program to tackle these challenges together. The SAEHC'S new Resource Center is an all-encompassing program with three departments: a Donations Center to give clients access to no-cost clothing and basic household items; a Computer Resource Center to provide access to technology and improve computer literacy, and a Transportation Program that offers access to employment services and health resources. While only in operation six months, more than 640 clients have been served, and more than 2,000 donated items have been distributed. Two volunteer program managers and 156 volunteers have been recruited to sustain the program.
National College Advising Corps: Many well-qualified students are discouraged by simple barriers to higher education, such as lack of information about college admission and financial aid. Advising Corps members work one-on-one with students to provide the advice and encouragement needed to help students make their dreams come true. Utilizing the energy and enthusiasm of recent college grads from partner universities to serve as full-time advisers in underserved schools, the National College Advising Corps works to improve the prospects of economically disadvantaged students for post-secondary success. The program, which receives support from the Social Innovation Fund and AmeriCorps, engages 327 advisers - including many AmeriCorps members – that serve more than 117,000 students in 14 states. Students served by the Advising Corps are 76 percent more likely to attend a financial aid workshop, 25 percent more likely to apply to college, 20 percent more likely to be accepted to college, and 34 percent more likely to be accepted to a four-year institution.
Coulee Region RSVP: The Coulee Region RSVP collaborates with Gundersen Lutheran Health System's environmental stewardship program to mitigate some of the waste that was being sent to the county's landfill and reuse the material to help others in the hospital. Every day, a material known as “blue wrap” is used at Gundersen Lutheran's facilities to wrap surgical instrument trays for the operating rooms. This material, which is responsible for 19 percent of the waste generated from surgical services nationwide, can only be used once before it is discarded. With help from the Coulee Region RSVP, surgical wrap that once would have made its way to the landfill is being repurposed and used as aprons for adult and pediatric oncology patients as they participate in healing arts activities, bedrail bags for patients during long-term stays, tote bags for educational materials, and as wheelchair/walker bags for rehab and therapy patients. Since the program's inception in 2011, 20 RSVP volunteers have saved more than 575 pounds of material from the local landfill by creating more than 900 items currently being used at Gundersen Lutheran.
Philadelphia Health Corps: Uninsured patients with chronic ailments and that live on fixed incomes continue to experience rising costs in health care. The Philadelphia Health Corps AmeriCorps members serving at the city's health centers help these patients gain access to life-saving medications through drug company prescription assistance programs through Philadelphia's network of eight health centers. When uninsured individuals become patients at the city health centers, the city is responsible for subsidizing care, including their prescription medications. Without Philadelphia Health Corps members helping patients navigate the complicated system of prescription assistance programs, health care costs would overwhelm the city and patients would go without needed medications. The effort began with two AmeriCorps members in 2006 and has expanded to 16 members serving in eight health centers. In the past six years, this program has helped more than 12,646 patients gain access to no-cost prescription medications, saving the City of Philadelphia over $8.5 million.
Veterans and Military Families:
- Heather Hays, California Conservation Corps: In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, the California Conservation Corps (CCC), a program involving young men and women who preserve natural resources and provide emergency response, focuses on helping veterans transition to civilian work. The program places vets in an instructional work environment, and connects them with support services and career development resources. Hays is helping vets make the most of a program that lets them serve their country in a new way while placing them on a pathway to permanent employment. She works with veterans before they enter the program and sits in on recruitment sessions to assess their individual needs, helping them determine career goals, perfect resumes and cover letters, and navigate the application and interview process throughout the program. In the time Hays has worked with veterans, she has seen many go on pursue opportunities with the U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Arizona Operation: Military Kids (OMK): The program is a national initiative funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Defense, and delivered through a grant received by the University of Arizona 4-H Youth Development. OMK supports military youth age 5-18 with outreach programs that enhance deployment cycle resilience through life skill development. AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members helped develop components of the Operation: Military Kids program to help military youth cope with the stresses of being away from their parents serving far from home. One such component, the Digital Speak Out Military Kids program encourages military youth to learn how to share their personal stories through the use photography, video, and podcasting while emphasizing digital storytelling and resilience skill development. Another, the OMK Career Pathfinders Summer Camp, allows teens to participate in a residential summer camp on the University of Arizona campus and get the opportunity to explore a variety of post-high school career options and life skills.
- Waynesville R-VI School District: The transient nature of military life can make the everyday difficult for students in military families. Many of the families stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, the base served by Waynesville R-VI, are there for less than two years and students may face challenges making new friends, fitting in socially, and connecting with the community. \ Seventy percent of its students are military impacted families and in some schools, more than 50 percent of the student population changes annually. AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA teams have partnered with Learn and Serve America to create a comprehensive, year-long afterschool program for Waynesville schools to help the students stay on course academically. AmeriCorps members provide tutoring and academic support to nearly 1,700 students throughout the school day and lead more than 400 students in afterschool programs. Meanwhile, AmeriCorps VISTA members work behind the scenes to assess the needs of each program, establish clubs, create workshops for parents and students, and secure grant funding.
Habitat for Humanity Vet Corps: Habitat for Humanity's Vet Corps works to ensure those who served their country get the support they have earned to avoid homelessness and poverty, and reintegrate into their communities when they leave military service. Habitat's Vet Corps played a critical role in the rollout of the Habitat for Humanity Repair Corps, Habitat's first national program designed exclusively for veterans. The Vet Corps program works with Habitat affiliates, volunteers, and partner organizations to identify housing, employment, and volunteer opportunities for veterans; support veterans as they make the transition from military to civilian life; and raise public awareness of the full scope of veteran housing needs and solutions. The Vet Corps initiative has placed 11 AmeriCorps VISTAs at Habitat affiliates across the nation, enabling Habitat to provide more than 300 housing solutions to veterans and military families, recruit veterans as Habitat employees and national service members, and engage veterans as volunteers.