This year, nearly 3,000 Minnesotans will raise their right hands and pledge: “I will get things done for America — to make our people safer, smarter and healthier.”
Then, these AmeriCorps members will fan out across the state, each devoting a year of their lives to giving back, often in their own communities.
AmeriCorps is sometimes called the domestic Peace Corps, and Minnesota is once again one of the program’s top recruiting hotbeds. It ranks third among states and territories for the number of volunteers per capita, behind only West Virginia and Washington, D.C. The Twin Cities area places second among large cities, behind Baltimore, according to the federal agency that administers the AmeriCorps program.
“Serving and volunteerism is really part of the Minnesota culture. It has a really strong presence here,” said Katie Boehm, a spokeswoman for ServeMinnesota, which runs most AmeriCorps programs in the state. “We have everyone from age 18 into their 80s. It’s a wonderful, diverse group of people, all ages and backgrounds, serving local communities all across the state.”
There are 15 different AmeriCorps programs in Minnesota with partners ranging from Minneapolis Public Schools to the nonprofit International Institute of Minnesota, which helps immigrants. AmeriCorps members go into schools and help children improve reading and math skills. They guide new Americans through job searches and provide support for people recovering from drug addiction.
Full-time participants receive a stipend of about $13,000, health benefits during their service and $5,900 in scholarships or loan forgiveness at the end of the year.
AmeriCorps has been around since 1994, following President Bill Clinton’s signing of the National and Community Service Trust Act that brought a variety of service organizations under one umbrella. Members work in schools, nonprofits and community and faith-based organizations to meet needs in education, housing, public safety, disaster response, public health and the environment. It employs more than 75,000 Americans each year.
“AmeriCorps is America at its best — people putting compassion into action,” said Barbara Stewart, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, in a statement.
AmeriCorps member Melissa Evers is serving in Minnesota’s first-ever Recovery Corps, providing peer-to-peer support for individuals overcoming addiction. Evers, 36, is a “recovery navigator” at the nonprofit Avivo, which helps more than 18,000 people each year with recovery, employment and economic advancement.
Evers, who used to work with people with disabilities, said AmeriCorps offered training and an opportunity for her to make a career change while helping others. During her year of service, Evers attained her peer recovery specialist certification. She is passionate about the work, she said, because she is also in recovery from alcohol and drug use.
“It’s a phenomenal program for someone like me who wants to do it as a career steppingstone and for anyone who wants to be of service,” Evers said.
Avivo supervisor Claude Maddox said he’s pleased AmeriCorps has expanded into recovery services.
“Melissa has done an exceptional job of providing to the community,” Maddox said.
AmeriCorps member Cheng Lee helps refugees and immigrants who are completing a nursing assistant program at the International Institute of Minnesota sharpen their resumes and polish their job hunting skills.
As the daughter of immigrants, she wanted to help people building new lives here in Minnesota.
Her family did worry when she explained she would be working for a small stipend. But Lee said the program has helped her map out her own future.
A former East Asian studies major at Hamline University, Lee, 24, said she now wants to pursue a degree in social work. She said she’s inspired by the work helping others find jobs and become self-sufficient.
“Sometimes, they will call me personally and thank me. That’s what keeps me going,” Lee said. “I am very proud to be part of their journey.”