Starting Oct. 30, the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership program will bring fourteen AmeriCorps members (eleven full-time and three part-time) for a one-year position focusing on the City of Grinnell’s education and literacy goals. AmeriCorps is a federal program that engages more than 75,000 of its members to serve in and improve nonprofit organizations, public agencies and faith-based and community-based organizations.
With applications for AmeriCorps members ending today, the 14 service members will be based in Grinnell to address the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national campaign to get every state’s students reading at grade level by third grade; the Skills Gap initiative, a town drive that ensures graduates have the skills necessary for the workforce and the improvement of Grinnell’s after-school enrichment programs.
The College’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement will operate this new Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership program. Grinnell College was the lead applicant of the grant and is one of 21 Iowa-based organizations that are receiving funding from the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service. The grant is for a one-year period, but is renewable up to three years.
The program will involve a lot of College and community collaboration. In addition to selecting the host sites where the AmeriCorps members will be placed in, the Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement is also selecting community taskforce members to assist the AmeriCorps members.
These taskforce volunteers will be individuals or organizations willing to serve one year in one of their program focus areas: summer learning, student attendance, school readiness, healthy readers, graduate skills gap and family/community engagement. Working alongside the College host sites, community taskforce groups and each other, the service members will serve as the “backbone” support to turn Grinnell’s educational goals into a success.
Melissa Strovers, the Program and Communications Manager for Community Enhancement and Engagement, indicated that the strong commitment for improved education and literacy rates by both the College and the community were one of the main reasons the College received the grant.
“In fact, in the fall of 2014, community stakeholders including Grinnell College met to discuss the community’s participation in the statewide campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR) initiative. It is because of the strong community support for [GLR] that helped to land the grant,” Strovers wrote in an email to The S&B.
Monica Chavez-Silva, the Director of Community Enhancement and Engagement, noted that since applying for the grant the community response has been positive, especially from local groups looking to be host sites for the AmeriCorps members.
“The first step was to identify host sites, and we got a terrific response. At present, there are 10 organizations interested in serving as host sites,” Chavez-Silva wrote.
Host sites are still being finalized, but Rachael Kinnick, Director of the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that the Chamber of Commerce was selected as one of the host sites and may be receiving one or two of the AmeriCorps members.
“Their primary responsibility would be to help coordinate the communication aspect of what the whole project encompasses. They’ll be doing a variety of things. We’re not entirely sure what they looks like yet,” Kinnick said.
The AmeriCorps members working in the Chamber of Commerce will be utilizing the resources of the Chamber to address the “family/community engagement” focus area of the program. Grinnell’s Chamber of Commerce sends out a weekly email blast to over 6,000 people in the area. Kinnick noted that this would be a useful tool to project the AmeriCorps program updates and information out to the community.
“We certainly do a lot for support [in] our business community, but we also focus a lot on communication, in terms of what our businesses are doing and communicating that to the general public,” Kinnck said. “We thought that would be a good fit for us to be in the communicating piece of the AmeriCorps.”
The community feels optimistic about the future of the town’s educational goals and relationship with the College.
“I think we’re making great strides towards better College and community engagement,” Kinnck said. “I think this is another great example of that. The College has really taken this project on and made sure that someone’s doing it. They’ve actually devoted a person solely to organizing this whole effort. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s exciting to potentially have 14 people dedicated to enhancing and improving the literacy in our schools and making that a priority.”