Annual Harkin Awards Honor AmeriCorps Members, Programs

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Sep 30, 2016

Annual Harkin Awards Honor AmeriCorps Members, Programs

Four winners from across the country recognized in D.C. for their commitment to service

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, announced the second annual Tom Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Awards to five AmeriCorps members and programs from around the nation. The winners were announced at a national gathering of AmeriCorps programs in Washington, D.C. last week.

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.

“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,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “We are proud to announce these winners and thank them for their exemplarily commitment to service to tackle some of the most pressing challenges citizens are facing.”

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 2016 Tom Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Award winners are:

  • Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation (Houston, Texas)
    Best New AmeriCorps Program Design Addressing a Critical Priority

    The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation (BBHLF) works to improve the quality of life for Houstonians through the power of literacy and expands awareness of the value of literacy for people of all ages. Through a partnership with CNCS, OneStar Foundation, BBHLF hosted five AmeriCorps VISTA members to help mobilize resources, funding, volunteers, and services. These AmeriCorps VISTA members helped BBHLF produce remarkable results. Since the launch of the volunteer portal in 2014, BBHLF has engaged more than 4,800 volunteers who have given more than more 33,100 hours of service for 27 Houston-area literacy partners.
     
  • Our City Forest (San Jose, California)
    Most significant enhancement to an existing program

    Current droughts in California have led to reductions in tree planting targets in local communities. To address this issue, Our City Forest (OCF) proposed to expand their existing community forestry program to help lower income homeowners convert their lawns to drought-tolerant landscapes. The program, Lawn Busters, enables residents to significantly lower water consumption to reduce increasing water bills. To date, OCF AmeriCorps members have helped conserved more than 2.4 million gallons of water in 77 households. The enhancement of OCF’s community forestry program has allowed AmeriCorps members to help combat climate change and drought across San Jose communities that need it the most.
     
  • Chris Brown, Washington Vet Corps
    Most compelling AmeriCorps experience in building an ethic of civic responsibility or having positive change in his life

    After returning to civilian life, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chris Brown began working with plants and gardens at the suggestion of one of his counselors. At that time, Chris was serving as an AmeriCorps member with the Washington Vet Corps program, helping veterans transition from military life to college. Some of the veterans he worked with were involved in environmental studies and sustainable agriculture, which led Chris to create Growing Veterans.

    Growing Veterans engages veterans in sustainable agriculture to address the problems facing returning veterans, including unemployment, homelessness, divorce, and depression. The nonprofit encourages alternative therapies through peer-support and volunteerism. Veterans receive transition assistance to develop their resumes and identify how to translate skills learned in the military to new roles. Through Chris’ visionary approach, veterans are able to bridge the gap back to civilian life and find ways to recover through service, just as Chris did through his service with AmeriCorps.
     
  • James Taylor, Public Allies Chicago
    AmeriCorps member with a disability who significantly contributed to disability inclusion efforts for national service programs

    Following his internship with Public Allies Chicago, James continued his service with the organization as an AmeriCorps member serving with Chicago Public School (CPS) Office of Diverse Learners. It was important to the Office of Diverse Learners to host an AmeriCorps member who had similar life experiences to the youth they served, like James. James helped the department refine their system for tracking special needs students from year to year and ensured students were provided the proper accommodations. As a student with special needs, James said he was allowed to fall through the cracks, and through his service wanted to ensure that no child would be allowed to do the same. James revolutionized how CPS tracked their diverse learners and brought a great level of proficiency and expertise to his work because of his similar life experiences to those he served.
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