By Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin
Community service is a cornerstone of our way of life in the Mountain State. As West Virginians, we take pride in our communities, and volunteer organizations like AmeriCorps have facilitated thousands of volunteers from West Virginia and beyond in making a positive difference in our state.
Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for AmeriCorps; one million members have volunteered in the organization’s 22-year history. Through 1.4 billion hours of community service, these AmeriCorps members have built homes for the homeless, restored parks and public recreational areas for our youth, helped communities recover from disasters, and done so much to make our communities stronger and safer.
AmeriCorps engages more than 80,000 Americans each year in community service initiatives that make a real impact on communities across the country. Thanks to efforts of organizations like Volunteer West Virginia, our state consistently has one of the best volunteer programs in the nation. In fact, West Virginia was just ranked third in the nation in AmeriCorps members per capita – a testament to how selfless our people are. Since 1994, more than 12,000 West Virginia residents have served more than 18 million hours.
When disasters strike, like the June 2016 flooding that devastated communities in West Virginia, volunteers are on the front lines doing whatever they can to help their neighbors. I visited flood-ravaged communities, including Clendenin, Rainelle, Richwood and White Sulphur Springs, and I saw first-hand the scale of the destruction. I walked through the thick mud that filled basements and covered streets and floors. And I saw scores of volunteers going into the areas worst affected to help with cleanup efforts, distribute food and supplies – helping our communities rebuild from this tragic event.
AmeriCorps members also build trails, restore parks and protect watersheds to ensure our state’s natural beauty can be enjoyed for generations to come. Volunteers help students who are struggling academically, providing dropout prevention mentor-based intervention to help get our most vulnerable youth back on track toward earning their high school diploma. AmeriCorps members served nearly 300,000 healthy meals in West Virginia in 2015, and have helped nearly 12,000 individuals increase their food security.
As AmeriCorps celebrates its one million member milestone, you can help keep the momentum going by getting involved in your community. I encourage you to help an elderly neighbor who may need some extra assistance. Organize a neighborhood cleanup event to help make your community clean and safe. And, visit volunteerwv.org and americorps.gov to discover more ways you can help move our communities forward through service and volunteerism.