Federal grant funds enable hundreds of AmeriCorps volunteers to continue serving West Virginia communities

By CHARLES YOUNG

The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va.  — Thanks to millions of dollars in federal grant funding, hundreds of AmeriCorps volunteers in West Virginia will have the financial resources to continue serving communities around the state.

The $5.4 million grant — which comes from the Corporation for National and Community Service — was announced by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin.

“In West Virginia, we have a long tradition of neighbors helping neighbors,” Manchin said. “I am pleased that AmeriCorps members and organizations throughout our state will be receiving resources to ensure that community service continues to improve families and communities in our state.”

The grant will support the work of 655 AmeriCorps volunteers working for four programs under the umbrella of the Volunteer West Virginia organization.

The individual organizations are: the Energy Express program through West Virginia University’s Extension Service, the Appalacian Forest Heritage Area, the Education Alliance and the LifeBridge AmeriCorps program through the United Way of Central West Virginia.

Logan Smith, the AmeriCorps supervisor for the Appalachian Forest Heritage area, said his organization’s portion of the grant funding will be used to employ 40 AmeriCorps volunteers working in 16 counties.

“We support organizations and projects that are doing heritage tourism, community development, conservation and historic preservation,” he said.

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area has employed AmeriCorps volunteers for the past 10 years, but the organization has always struggled raise enough money to support its work. Now, with the addition of the grant funding, things will be much easier, Smith said.

“Before, we have been fairly underfunded,” he said. “Now, we are able to actually deploy that support out to our organizations.”

Amelia Courts, president and CEO of the Education Alliance, said the student mentor program will use the grant funds to facilitate the service of 35 AmeriCorps volunteers working in various schools across the state.

“Our AmeriCorps program focuses on drop out prevention at schools,” she said. “They provide more than 27,000 hours of volunteer service each year, where they directly mentor at-risk students and help them successfully complete high school.”

The funding will be used for stipends for the “paid volunteers,” Courts said.

“It’s not a salary. It’s a minimal amount, but it helps to provide a living allowance for them,” she said.

Robin Bowman, director of the LifeBridge program, said the federal funding her organization received will allow its 70 AmeriCorps members to continue their work volunteering at 42 different charitable organizations in 18 counties.

LifeBridge’s volunteers work in the fields of education, veterans affairs and health and human services, Bowman said.

Without the grant funding, many of the smaller organizations to which Lifebridge provides volunteers would be forced to close, Bowman said.

“It makes a huge impact,” she said. “A lot of nonprofits, especially in West Virginia, have been hit with the economy and do not have the money to hire extra staff. But, when a Lifebridge member comes in, they can take the member and use that member for a year to get those programs back up and running and help them become sustainable so that they can keep those programs going.”

The federal grant money accounts for a sizable portion of LifeBridge’s budget, Bowman said.

“It enables us to keep serving the communities and keep many of the nonprofits doing the good work that they already do and to expand their footprint within the community,” she said. “It makes a difference in both the lives of the clients we serve and in the lives of our members.”

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