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Last fall, Rural LISC supported ten of its partners in bringing on 11 AmeriCorps service members to support locally-driven efforts to address community challenges. As part of their year of service, Rural LISC's AmeriCorps members participated in LISC's AmeriCorps National Leadership Conference, hosted by Detroit LISC last week. During the conference, they had the opportunity to network with LISC AmeriCorps members from across the country, and attend panels to learn more about community and economic development, and other areas of LISC's work. The group even completed a service project at Gleaners Detroit, a food bank serving needy families in Central and Mid-Town Detroit. "I had a blast. We really learned a lot this week," said Shelia Watson, a Rural LISC AmeriCorps member serving with MACE in Mississippi, at the end of the conference.
These individuals are having an enormous impact on Rural LISC’s partners and their communities during their year of service.
AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency created in 1993 which hosts AmeriCorps,the Senior Corps and the Social Innovation Fund, all service-oriented programs that target community improvement. The AmeriCorps program traces its roots to the VISTA program that originated with President John F. Kennedy’s vision for a domestic version of the Peace Corps in 1962. Several years later in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson brought VISTA into being as part of the national War on Poverty and an attempt to connect Americans across the nation to the organizations and communities that needed them most in their efforts to eliminate and alleviate poverty. VISTA became part of the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993.
Over 220,000 AmeriCorps members have served nonprofits, schools, public agencies or community and faith-based organizations advancing local solutions to poverty and its related challenges since 1965. Through their service in tribal, rural, suburban and urban communities, AmeriCorps service members apply their passion, skills and commitment to strengthening their host sites’ abilities to serve their communities. At the same time, service members develop valuable skills, relationships and knowledge that will support their personal and professional growth.
AmeriCorps service is particularly valuable in rural areas, where communities face limited access to job opportunities, quality education, affordable housing, health care, medical facilities, technology and broadband. While many rural organizations work daily to address these challenges, including Rural LISC’s 86 partners, AmeriCorps service members bolster these efforts by strengthening organizational capacity. Through their service, AmeriCorps members support the ability of organizations to deliver innovative community-based solutions to pressing challenges associated with rural poverty.
In addition, AmeriCorps builds and renews leadership in rural America, developing the next generation of community leaders at a grassroots level. After attending LISC's National Leadership conference, Shannon Schuh, Rural LISC's AmeriCorps member serving with Homestead Affordable Housing in Kansas, felt the experience "really helped grow my professional development." Gabrielle Brown, who serves with Rural LISC partner Mercy Housing and Human Development in Mississippi, recognized the networking and relationship-building opportunities provided by AmeriCorps. "It was nice to get to meet my rural cohort and get a sense of community," she said. By supporting Americans in developing the skills, relationships and local perspectives necessary for effective community-based development, AmeriCorps nurtures a network of leaders equipped with the tools and the passion to fight poverty in our communities.
Rural LISC’s 11 AmeriCorps members and their host sites are:
Louis Bennet, Delta Community Development and Law Center, Inc., Arkansas
Gabrielle Brown, Mercy Housing and Human Development, Inc., Mississippi
Kate Dohnal, Northern Initiatives, Michigan
Dana Dominguez, Self-Help Enterprises, Inc., California
April Ganzon, Self-Help Enterprises, Inc., California
Samantha Garcia, Pathfinder Services, Inc., Indiana
Sherrie Jones, Pearl River Valley Opportunity, Inc., Mississippi
Shy Mercer, North Florida Educational Development Corporation, Florida
Shannon Schuh, Homestead Affordable Housing, Inc., Kansas
Sarah Trench, Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, Massachusetts
Shelia Watson, Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE), Mississippi
These members support partners in many capacities ranging from completing community assessments and delivering job training and skill development opportunities to improving healthy and affordable housing stock.
Two of Rural LISC’s AmeriCorps members, Louis Bennet and Kate Dohnal, recruit and manage community residents as volunteers, implementing effective volunteer management practices and increasing organizational capacity.
Gabrielle Brown's service is more focused on providing financial literacy counseling services to economically disadvantaged adults, improving their financial knowledge related to credit management, financial institutions and savings plans.
From the West Coast to the Delta, Dana Dominguez, April Ganzon, Samantha Garcia and Sherrie Jones are supporting their host sites in completing community assessments – identifying goals and making recommendations to help highlight and prioritize critical issues and plan future interventions.
Shy Mercer provides job training and skill development services including Adult, GED and ESL education and job skills training to economically disadvantaged clients, supporting job placement in Gadsden County, Florida.
Shannon Schuh, Sarah Trench and Shelia Watson deliver physical housing development services including new construction, rehabilitation, repair and weatherization in three different regions. They are helping economically disadvantaged families and individuals transition into safe, healthy, affordable housing.
All 11 of Rural LISC’s AmeriCorps members, and the 8,000 members serving nationwide, make an invaluable contribution to the communities and organizations they serve. Rural LISC is honored to support their meaningful work during AmeriCorps week and year-round.