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AmeriCorps Works in Philadelphia

June 25, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from Rachel Turner, the Outreach & Programs Manager at Global Citizen, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that coordinates the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, the country’s largest King Day of Service event. She manages the outreach and registration process for the thousands of volunteers and hundreds of organizations that participate throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware each year. Beyond the Day of Service, she creates and manages sustainable, year-round volunteer and service learning programs for MLK365 and corporate volunteer groups.

She is an AmeriCorps Alum and the Chapter Leader for the Philadelphia AmeriCorps Alums Chapter. In her spare time, she enjoys biking, spending time with her family and volunteering to support organizations that work to improve the lives of women and girls.

AmeriCorps members have improved the lives of thousands of Philadelphians over the past two decades by volunteering their time and talents to address some of our city’s most daunting challenges. AmeriCorps members serve in programs that address a wide variety of issues ranging from poverty to education to environmental concerns.

In particular, AmeriCorps members have played a crucial role in addressing the city’s dropout crisis by providing education-based programming to at-risk and underserved young people. Along with stories covering the dropout crisis, numerous headlines have appeared over the past several years telling tragic tales of juvenile crime in Philadelphia, including but not limited to, the city’s infamous flash mobs and the outbursts of youth violence at South Philadelphia High School.

Chief Service Officer Catie Wolfgang speaking at the AmeriCorps Week Rally

AmeriCorps members have taken an active role in addressing these issues by organizing after school programs, mentoring students, offering career exploration programs and facilitating community service activities to help the city’s young people realize their potential as both students and citizens.

Since it’s founding in 1997, City Year Greater Philadelphia has mobilized over 1,500 AmeriCorps members who have positively impacted the lives of over 100,000 children. Over the course of the agency’s 15 year history, City Year corps members have given over 2 million hours of service, completing projects to revitalize communities while providing one-on-one tutoring and mentorship to young Philadelphians.

Serving one of the most struggling segments of the city’s youth population, full time AmeriCorps members at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School work with high school dropouts to help them turn their lives around. YouthBuild offers a unique, one-year program which provides former dropouts between the ages of 18 – 21 with a chance to earn their diplomas while learning vital job skills and providing valuable community services to Philadelphia neighborhoods. The full-time AmeriCorps members of the organization’s Community Service Department lead service learning classes for students, all of whom are part-time AmeriCorps members. In this instance, the AmeriCorps program is both delivering services to at-risk young people while also providing those young people with an avenue of empowerment or a means to better their professional circumstances and personal lives.

AC Week mural painting at Alcorn Elementary

Another key player in both Philadelphia and the larger region can be seen in EducationWorks, a not-for-profit organization that provides comprehensive support for economically disadvantaged students in Philadelphia, as well as Chester, PA and Trenton and Camden, NJ. Through after school and project-based learning programs, EducationWorks AmeriCorps members have helped students improve their attendance and academic performance on standardized tests. Each year, EducationWorks engages up to 2,000 students and 300 families in community service and service learning programs.

Along with providing vital services to young Philadelphians, the AmeriCorps program has prepared hundreds of its members for employment. AmeriCorps has helped its members develop various skill sets which transfer into careers in public service and other fields. AmeriCorps has provided an opportunity for young, talented professionals to learn about challenges facing Philadelphians and develop personal bonds with neighborhoods and citizens.

In many cases, the AmeriCorps experience has catalyzed its members to make long term commitments to improve Philadelphia communities. After completing a term of AmeriCorps, several alumni have moved on to pursue careers in civic leadership as seen in the AmeriCorps stories of Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Deputy Commissioner of the Philadelphia Streets Department Carlton Williams and Special Assistant to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter Lauren Walker.

After just briefly exploring its impact in Philadelphia, it becomes clear that AmeriCorps is a program that the city cannot do without. For this reason, the Philadelphia AmeriCorps Alums Chapter partners with Global Citizen, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service (also known as SERVE Philadelphia) and several other organizations to coordinate National AmeriCorps Week in Philadelphia. During the week, corps members, alumni and the general public participate in events that highlight how AmeriCorps is creating a smarter, safer and healthier Philadelphia.

Mayor Nutter and a few AC members at the Community Concert

The theme of AmeriCorps Week 2012 was AmeriCorps Works, expressing the triple bottom line return on investment that the program delivers to the recipients of service, those who serve and the community at large. In the coming year, the Alums Chapter looks forward to growing partnerships and strengthening collaborations to expand and improve its programming while continuing to drive home the message that AmeriCorps Works in Philadelphia.

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