First Annual Harkin Awards Honor AmeriCorps Members, Programs

Sep 16, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin joined the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) today to present the first annual Tom Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Awards to five AmeriCorps members and programs from around the nation.

The Tom Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Awards were created in honor of Senator Tom Harkin, a lifelong champion for national service, to recognize the outstanding and innovative AmeriCorps programs tackling our nation’s most pressing challenges.

“I could think of no better role model for public service than Sen. Tom Harkin,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Nearly 1 million Americans have served in AmeriCorps, thanks to the leadership and effectiveness of leaders like Sen. Tom Harkin who made creating these service opportunities a priority. Sen. Harkin knows that part of being a good citizen is serving, giving back. His stature as a public servant and advocate for national service is known in Iowa and across the country.”

“It is a tremendous honor to present these awards to such deserving individuals and organizations that exemplify what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” said Senator Tom Harkin. “AmeriCorps provides hope to the people they serve – I’ve seen it firsthand in Iowa – and so many Iowans will never forget the generosity, hard work, and heart of AmeriCorps members who helped them through some of their toughest times. AmeriCorps helps to define America as a compassionate nation that does not turn its back on the least, the lost, and the left behind. “

While in the Senate, Sen. Harkin consistently fought to preserve and expand funding for AmeriCorps and other national service programs, helping to pass the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, and supported policy changes that have strengthened national service programs for future generations. As one of the authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Sen. Harkin also encouraged national service as a pathway for those with physical and mental disabilities.

The 2015 Tom Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Award winners are:

  • Berea College PartnerCorps (Berea, Kent.)
    Best New AmeriCorps Program Design

    PartnerCorps is a school-wide mentoring program that began in 2013, placing 40 AmeriCorps members in Knox and Leslie County High Schools. Since its inception, PartnerCorps members have provided more than 30,000 hours of service, mentoring students, and providing behavior and attendance assistance. Both schools have seen significantly improved in academic achievement and school attendance since PartnerCorps was introduced to the community. In 2014, Leslie County High School recorded the highest ACT average among juniors in the school’s history and jumped from 224th to 16th place out of 230 Kentucky schools.
  • American YouthWorks (Austin)
    Most significant enhancement to an existing AmeriCorps program

    After being mobilized for their first disaster following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, American YouthWorks quickly discovered they had a formula that worked to provide critical services in times of disaster. Under their former program design however, American YouthWorks AmeriCorps members were only able to deploy during federally-declared disasters, limiting the program’s ability to respond in a timely way and provide critical services for an impending disaster.

    In 2012, American YouthWorks launched their Texas Conservation Corps and corresponding Emergency Response Team, which include teams of AmeriCorps members that are trained and ready for rapid deployment in response to disasters across Texas. These AmeriCorps members are experts in volunteer and donation management logistics, homeowner assistance registration, operating call centers, staffing shelters, aiding in case management, debris removal, and supporting search and rescue operations. Without these critical program changes, American YouthWorks would not have had the swift and impactful response to this year’s Texas floods.
  • Alex Feest, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Vet Corps (Oshkosh, Wisconsin)
    AmeriCorps member with a disability who significantly contributed to disability inclusion efforts for national service programs

    U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alex Feest began his AmeriCorps experience with Riverview Gardens and often doubted his ability to relate to the people RVG serves – community members who struggle with barriers to stable employment due to physical and mental health, abuse, personal choices, and life circumstances. Alex’s success working one-on-one with individuals in Riverview Gardens job training program, inspired the organization to develop a partnership with Outagamie County Veterans Treatment Court which is an opportunity for veterans experiencing trauma from military service compounded by mental health, alcohol, and other drug addictions, to receive treatment as an alternative to jail. Because of Alex’s efforts, veterans from all branches of service have joined Riverview Gardens as community volunteers, and veterans in need have connected with the program and joined the job training program.
  • Bridget Palombo, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (Philadelphia)
    Most compelling AmeriCorps experience in building an ethic of civic responsibility

    As a LISC AmeriCorps member serving with the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a nonprofit social service organization in North Philadelphia, Bridget Palombo sought to address the lack of affordable, fresh produce for the families she served. Her research led to the development of the Food Buying Club, which provides residents the ability to purchase produce directly from the Philadelphia Wholesale Product market at a lower cost. In August 2014, the Food Buying Club held its first group buy; eight families shared four cases of produce. Ten months later, 77 families shared 86 cases of produce. Since its inception, the program has provided more than 25,000 pounds of produce and saved participating residents nearly $50,000. Bridget now works with other community organizations to discuss, teach, and implement her model.
  • Dubuque National Service Partnership (Dubuque, Iowa)
    Honorable Mention

    The Dubuque National Service Partnership (DNSP) is a unique cooperative that leverages the collective impact of Higher Education, local nonprofits, and city and state governments through national service to focus volunteers on building economic opportunity in the Dubuque community. For example, Loras College contributes to the DNSP by utilizing five Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA members and 40 Iowa College AmeriCorps Program (ICAP) members each year to develop programs like Dubuddies which supports Iowans with intellectual disabilities.
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