Annual AmeriCorps Week honors volunteers May 14-21Written by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
The fifth-annual AmeriCorps Week runs from May 14-21 to honor AmeriCorps members and demonstrate the impact of the organization. For United Way AmeriCorps in Toledo, the celebration will include honoring members at the May 21 Mud Hens game after volunteering at the Cherry Street Mission.
“AmeriCorps Week is an opportunity for recognition for the current members and to educate the public on what AmeriCorps is all about,” said Theresa Ginter, interim project manager at United Way of Greater Toledo. “It’s kind of a recruiting tool. It’s to let the community know AmeriCorps is out there.”
The Toledo branch of AmeriCorps began in 2004. It has 33 members assigned to 23 host sites between Wood, Lucas and Ottawa counties to provide service to residents and communities through focused programs, outreach, and personal development in citizenship. Volunteers receive benefits such as a stipend and an education grant. The organization has been described as the domestic Peace Corps.
“I’d argue it’s just as important if not more important than the Peace Corp by making sure our communities are strong and stable,” said Bill Kitson, president and CEO of United Way. “We’ve had amazing AmeriCorps volunteers over the years doing great work in our community. We’re thrilled with the idea of focusing them on something as important as helping our kids graduate from school.”
One of the main focuses of AmeriCorps in Toledo is to address the United Way Community Impact Plan.
“Our agenda for change focuses on education, income and health to make sure kids graduate from our schools, families are financially stable and people have access to health care,” Kitson said. “We’re hoping the new AmeriCorps program will allow us to do dramatic work in education.”
AmeriCorps is shifting to make its work more focused in the upcoming service year, and in Toledo it means putting an emphasis on education.
“When it came time to pick one, we were really focused on education this year with being a part of the transformation plan with Toledo Public Schools,” Ginter said.
The focus on education is reflected in many AmeriCorps volunteers such as Krystal Steuer and Charlotte Jones.
“AmeriCorps members are doing great things in our community,” said Michelle Davis, executive director of United Way Community Outreach Services. “They are helping clothe and feed the needy, advocating for domestic violence victims, coordinating community volunteers, mentoring students and much more.”
Steuer joined the program in September. She previously attended The Ohio State University and will finish her degree this fall at the University of Toledo with a major in political science and public administration.
“I got into AmeriCorps for direct hands-on experience and one-on-one contact with people we’re assisting,” Steuer said. “I just moved back to Toledo after being gone at college and moving around for eight years. I wanted to do AmeriCorps when I lived in Kansas, but there wasn’t anything close by. I was excited there were AmeriCorps host sites when I moved back to Toledo.”
Steuer’s host site is United Way 2-1-1, which provides information for people in need of health and human service resources.
Jones has a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting from UT and plans to go back for her master’s. She joined AmeriCorps in August 2009.
“It’s been a great opportunity to build my skills serving at my host site and meeting new people and building relationships,” Jones said. “My host site has helped steer me in the direction I want to go in my career.”
Jones volunteers through the Greater Toledo Urban League, which provides economic empowerment, educational opportunities and the guarantee of civil rights for African Americans and the disadvantaged.
With members like Steuer and Jones eventually taking their careers to the next level, AmeriCorps is always looking for new volunteers.
“We are looking for someone who wants to change the world,” Ginter said. “Our members come in very enthusiastic, wanting to make an impact, help someone and see change happen. It’s a life-changing experience for members. They get out of their comfort zone but learn a lot from that.”
AmeriCorps faces financial uncertainty following the latest round of budget cuts from Congress, but Kitson said he is optimistic about the future of the program.
For more information on volunteering, visit UnitedWayToledo.org/AmeriCorps.