Special Initiatives

2012 Service Impact Award Recipients

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announces the 2012 National Service Impact Awards. The recipients exemplify the best in national and community service in the key issue areas of the Serve America Act and disaster services.

Through the awards, CNCS learns about best practices in solution-driven service to help further the agency’s mission while recognizing outstanding impact in communities accomplished through service and volunteering.

Recipients were announced and recognized at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, June 18, 2012, in Chicago. Recipients were guests of CNCS at the conference.

2012 National Service Impact Award Recipients

Disaster Services | Economic Opportunity | Education | Environmental Stewardship | Healthy Futures | Veterans and Military Families | People's Choice

Disaster Services

St. Louis AmeriCorps
St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis AmeriCorpsThe St. Louis Safety Service Corps, commonly known as the Emergency Response Team (ERT), answered the call time and time again after natural disasters scarred communities across the Midwest in 2011. 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 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 times of disaster, members of the ERT have developed strong partnerships with faith-based and voluntary organizations, local and state emergency managers, as well as agencies like FEMA and the United Way. Together they have joined first responders to reach out to aid citizens who have been left homeless, distraught, devastated, or grieving the loss of loved ones.

Some ERT members initially focus on critical life safety needs assisting with search and rescue, distribution of life-sustaining supplies, and outreach to special needs families. At the same time, other members collaborate with community leaders to effectively manage volunteers, coordinate donations, and develop an effective approach for recovery.

In Joplin alone, ERT members have coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers to complete 2,200 homeowner requests. The ERT has deployed to disasters in more than 60 Missouri counties and 30 states. As good “guests” in these communities, they strive to represent a set of values that reflects the needs of those in trouble; serving courteously, professionally, and with empathy.

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Economic Opportunity

Christopher Gonzales
Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center
Sacramento, California

Chris Gonzales, Sacramento Area Emergency Housing CenterMany homeless people face significant barriers to employment, including lack of work-appropriate clothing, limited access to computers or computer skills, and transportation issues. The dilemma is that these challenges are tough to surmount when people with a strong desire to work can’t access the practical tools they need to find and maintain long-term employment.

Christopher Gonzales, a dedicated AmeriCorps VISTA at the Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center (SAEHC), has developed a program to eliminate many of these barriers.

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 this program has been in operation only six months, more than 650 clients have been served, and more than 2,000 donated items have been distributed. Since the first two quarters of the fiscal year, Gonzales has formed 31 essential partnerships with local organizations, and recruited two volunteer program managers and 156 volunteers to sustain the program.

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National College Advising Corps

National College Advising CorpsUtilizing 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. Many well-qualified students are discouraged by barriers to higher education, such as lack of information about college admission and financial aid, while guidance counselor caseloads are approaching 500 students per counselor nationwide. Advising Corps members work oneon-one with students to provide the advice and encouragement to help students make their dreams come true.

The program, which receives support from the Social Innovation Fund and AmeriCorps, engages with 327 advisers–including many AmeriCorps members – who serve more than 117,000 students in 14 states. Advising Corps members assist with the completion of admissions and financial aid applications, access test prep and college application fee waivers, and ensure that students take the final steps to complete the college enrollment process.

The results are encouraging: Students 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. The advisers benefit as well, with 99 percent intending to attend graduate school and 37 percent having plans to pursue studies in education.

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Environmental Stewardship

Coulee Region RSVP
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Coulee Region RSVPThe Coulee Region RSVP in La Crosse, Wisconsin, 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. Following the sterilization of the trays, they are unwrapped and the blue wrap is thrown away. 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.

Thanks to 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, as bedrail bags for patients during long-term stays, as tote bags for educational materials, as wheelchair/walker bags for rehab and therapy patients, as personal item caddies, and as breast cancer patient care bags.

Since the program’s inception in August 2011, 20 volunteers have saved more than 575 pounds of material from the local landfill by creating 932 items currently being used at Gundersen Lutheran.

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Healthy Futures

Philadelphia Health Corps
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Health CorpsRising health care costs continue to hit extra hard for people with chronic illnesses who are uninsured or living on fixed incomes. Philadelphia Health Corps AmeriCorps members serve in the city’s District Health Centers to help these patients gain access to medications through drug company prescription assistance programs.

Philadelphia’s network of eight health centers provide comprehensive primary care to more than 80,000 people each year, 57 percent of whom have no health insurance. When uninsured people 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 through the complicated system of prescription assistance programs, it could be very difficult for the city to afford the tremendous cost burden and patients would go without needed medications. For AmeriCorps members, this program is a great way to learn about the healthcare system, where many of them hope to have future careers as physicians and other health specialties.

The effort began with two AmeriCorps members in 2006 and has expanded to 16 members serving in eight health centers. During the past six years, this program has helped more than 12,646 patients gain free access to medications, saving the City of Philadelphia over $8.5 million. The Philadelphia Health Corps, based at the Health Federation of Philadelphia, is an operating site of the National Health Corps AmeriCorps program.

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Veterans and Military Families

Heather Hays
California Conservation Corps - Veterans Green Corps

California Conservation Corps - Veterans Green CorpsRecently discharged veterans shouldn’t have to struggle to find work when they return home from service, but they often do. AmeriCorps VISTA Heather 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.

The California Conservation Corps (CCC), a program to preserve natural resources and provide emergency response services, in partnership with the United States Forest Service, runs the Veterans Green Corps (VGC) as a way to help former military members make the transition to civilian work. The program places vets in an instructional work environment, and connects them with support services and career development resources.

Hays gets involved with veterans even before they enter the VGC as she sits in on recruitment sessions to assess their individual needs. She then follows the vets throughout their term to determine career goals, perfect resumes and cover letters, and navigate the application and interview process as they prepare to leave the VGC.

In the time Hays has worked with veterans, she has seen one promoted to crew leader at the CCC, three work through the hiring process with the U.S. Forest Service, and 15 land civilian jobs at the California State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Waynesville R-VI School District
Waynesville, Missouri

Waynesville R-VI School DistrictThe transient nature of military life can make life difficult for students in military families, and many are stationed at Fort Leonard Wood for less than two years or experience parental deployment. They often have challenges with making new friends, fitting into social groups, and connecting with the community.

The rural Waynesville School District in Missouri encompasses the Fort Leonard Wood Military Installation, a training facility, 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 VISTA teams have partnered with Learn and Serve America to create a comprehensive afterschool program for Waynesville schools to help the students stay on course academically.

The program continues during the summer, as students receive individualized assistance through the summer school program. Forty VISTA Summer Associates and AmeriCorps NCCC members partner with yearlong AmeriCorps members to offer tutoring during school and to provide unique educational enrichment opportunities after school including camping, interactive science experiments, museum trips, leadership camps, fitness activities, and service-learning projects.

AmeriCorps members provide tutoring and academic support to 1,696 students throughout the school day and lead more than 400 students in afterschool programs. Meanwhile, 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.

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Operation: Military Kids
University of Arizona 4-H
Tucson, Arizona

Operation: Military KidsRepeated military deployments have impacted our military families. For National Guard and Reserve troops, the emotional strain hits children left behind especially hard.

Operation: Military Kids (OMK) 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. OMK program components developed by AmeriCorps and VISTA members help military youth cope with the stresses of being away from their parents serving far from home.

One is the Digital Speak Out Military Kids program that helps military youth learn how to share their stories of a loved one being deployed through the use photography, video, and podcasting while emphasizing digital storytelling and resilience skill development. Another is the OMK Career Pathfinders Summer Camp, where teens 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.

Recently, the OMK Digital Speak Out Military Kids program and OMK Career Pathfinders Summer Camp were recognized as “best practices” during the 2011 and 2012 National 4-H Military Liaisons and OMK Project Directors Meeting. The programs were also recognized during the 2010 Children Youth & Family At Risk National Conference for their continued impact and deployment support for military youth.

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People's Choice

Habitat for Humanity Vet Corps

Habitat for Humanity Vet CorpsFor some veterans, it feels like another battle begins when they return home from serving their country – getting a place to call home.

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. Habitat partnered with the Home Depot Foundation to launch this critical home repair program, offering veterans anything from roof repairs to ease-of-access modifications like railing and ramps to home weatherization. Often other veterans, active duty military personnel, and Home Depot associates are enlisted to work alongside veteran partner families as they repair their homes.

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.

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  • Click here to learn about the 2011 Service Impact Award Winners
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