OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The AmeriCorps program is alive and well around Oswego County.
AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engages more that 50,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.
It’s a benefit not just for the agencies that employee AmeriCorps workers, but for the workers themselves who gain valuable experience, according to Kathleen Andolina, program director of the Oswego County AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps members Ã¢â‚¬Å“are all spread out,Ã¢â‚¬Â Andolina said.
Over the years, members have worked in most school districts around the county as well as the municipal summer recreation programs, Safe Haven, several not-for-profit organizations and other sites.
Recently, Valerie Edwin joined the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, to augment the AmeriCorps VISTA programs in the area.
“It’s like a vow of service to the country,” she said of the work she’s doing. “The VISTA program is an initiative to eradicate poverty.”
AmeriCorps members help increase hours and activities at recreation programs for youth, facilitates cultural exposure and diversity programs, and implements school readiness and family literacy activities.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our programs focus on projects within the community that provide a direct service to children and families,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Around the country, you might find AmeriCorps programs that focus on environment issues, housing issues or other concerns.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She is from Troy, Michigan, and went to school in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
“I just graduated from Central Michigan University at Mount Pleasant with a Bachelor’s of Science. My major was sociology and my minor was English,” she said. “I love sociology because it teaches you understanding and compassion for disadvantaged people as well as group behavior.”
“I learned about the AmeriCorps VISTA program from the Volunteer Center at CMU,” she said. “Other Alternative Break Site Leaders were going into the program after they graduated.”
She applied to Serve New York, a division of Western New York AmeriCorps, on americorps.gov
“I interviewed for Kathy (Andolina) and I was accepted,” she said. “I wanted to try living outside of Michigan for a while, and I have a few years before I want to go to law school. So, I chose to do VISTA.”
VISTA is a special program from the AmeriCorps (like a domestic Peace Corps), Valerie explained.
“It puts members into organizations to build capacity. VISTA’s mission is to eradicate poverty through indirect service in poverty-stricken areas,” she said. “One of the initiatives that I’m here for in Oswego County is to help at-risk youth and poverty-stricken families. To do like a general community building Ã¢â‚¬â€œ increasing interactions between people.”
The program drew her because “VISTAs live for a year on the poverty income and they perform indirect service with the organization that they are partnered with by extending programs, capacity building, community building and other similar activities,” she said.
At the Youth Bureau, she is in charge of organizing national service days like Make a Difference Day (happening on Oct. 24), as well as recruiting AmeriCorps members and community volunteers, doing public relations initiatives, and other things like that, she added.
They will be doing a blood drive and gardening at the Richardson-Bates House Museum.
“With a lot of the schools around here, we have mentoring programs” she said. “During the summer it’s more of a recreational program.”
They offer tennis programs and partner with others such as the YMCA and Camp Hollis, she added.
She has met a lot of people from around the county.
She will be promoting AmeriCorps and VISTA at area farmers’ markets, and other events.
“This past summer, we had 41 spots and 39 were filled. The spots are all around the county,” she said. “The AmeriCorps workers do a lot of different things. There are a lot of opportunities.”
They help at places like libraries, Safe Haven and more.
“AmeriCorps is attractive to kids just out of college because they can get work experience and earn money to help pay off college loans. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also attractive to kids just out of high school because they can get experience while earning money to help pay for a college education,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
And, it’s not just young people; several retirees take part in the program to stay active in a field that they enjoy.
Members serve through more than 2,100 non-profits, public agencies, and faith-based organizations. They tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs, and help communities respond to disasters.
Created in 1993, AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which also oversees Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America.
When her time in Oswego draws to a close, she might continue with VISTA (Serve New York, a division of Western New York AmeriCorps), she said.
“I might maybe look for a job here,” she added. “It’s kind of up in the air right now whether I will stay in New York. My parents live in Maryland now.”
Her hobbies are reading books (currently she’s going through a “Joyce Carol Oates phase”) and watching TV, especially reruns of the King of Queens and Friends.
For more information contact her at the office at 349-3450.
If you are interested in more information about the AmeriCorps programs log onto www.americorps.org