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AmeriCorps instills life-long commitment to volunteer

In recruiting and coordinating the work of AmeriCorps reading tutors, construction workers, nonprofit volunteer recruiters and an outreach coordinator, Mandy Edwards hopes to instill a lifelong commitment to volunteering.

As program manager of the Spokane Service Team with Educational Service District #101, she oversaw the work of 42 AmeriCorps members in the 2006 to 2007 term. Now new teams are forming in the Reading Corps, Construction Corps and with six nonprofits.

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Mandy Edwards

AmeriCorps, a U.S.-based program similar to the Peace Corps, is a network of local, state and national service programs to meet needs in education, public safety, health and the environment through more than 2,000 nonprofits, public agencies, faith-based and community organizations. More than 400,000 Americans have served in AmeriCorps since it started in 1994.

Those who serve are called AmeriCorps “members,” not “workers” or “volunteers,” because they work for a stipend, plus a $4,725 education award. Those funds are designed to motivate them to complete their one-year term—1,700 hours.

They are eligible to receive two education awards if they serve two terms.

Mandy started with AmeriCorps managing summer-school and after-school programs for five years with the Tonasket School District.

After graduating from high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and high school English in 1994 at Eastern Washington University. She married a Canadian and lived three years in Oliver, B.C., setting aside her dream of going to Africa in the Peace Corps.

During her first year with AmeriCorps
, she realized “there is much need in America, too.”

She first came to Spokane to manage the Reading Corps, which started in 1995, because fewer than half of the students in the state passed the WASL reading test. Schools with an average score of 50 percent or lower were eligible to be included in the reading corps.
One of those schools was Mandy’s childhood school, Onion Creek Elementary School north of Colville. While there were only six in her class, there are now more than 200 in the school her grandparents built.

Now because of the Reading Corps, curricula improvements, teacher collaboration and early-learning initiatives, scores are up. The criteria for participation is having an average score of 70 percent or less.

“When both parents work, many children miss time sitting on a parent’s lap with the parent reading to them,” Mandy said. “Children whose parents read to them experience success early.”

Tutoring can help young students catch up. The Reading Corps assists young and older grade school students through cross-age tutoring. Older students who need to read lower-level books to improve their reading skills are willing to read those books to the younger students.

Last year, the Reading Corps served two schools in Asotin County, two in Stevens County and nine in Spokane County.

Mandy found skills gained from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Tonasket helpful in her work with the Construction Corps.

That team gains work skills and construction skills in building houses from the ground up and in remodeling homes and offices.

Each year, the team builds a house for developmentally delayed or wheel-chair bound adults. After learning construction skills, members meet these people. Then they see their efforts as community service.

The team also maintains 31 housing units for 118 developmentally delayed or wheel-chair-bound adults in Spokane.

In addition, the 2006-2007 team remodeled the kitchen in the Peaceful Valley Community Center that serves a meal to 200 every Friday. They also remodeled bathrooms at Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest.

Some worked with the City of Spokane to remodel foreclosed houses to be sold to low-income families. Others helped the city secure abandoned houses by boarding them up to prevent crime.

The team also worked on remodeling the two old houses and a garage that house the Spokane Service Team offices at 2424 E. Riverside.

“Construction is a powerful way to combat apathy,” Mandy said.

Last year, the nonprofits that had AmeriCorps members assisting with volunteer recruitment and community outreach were the American Red Cross, Mid-City Concerns, West Valley School, KYRS Thin Air Radio, The Net School and The Fig Tree.

In addition, AmeriCorps has 20 members who volunteer quarter-time—450 hours in non-stipend positions with non-profits. They receive $1,200 education awards. They can work or study, which the full-time members cannot do.

There are also 50 positions for high school seniors in Projects of Community Significance, placing seniors in programs where they volunteer 300 hours for a $1,000 education award while completing their requirement to do community service.

“Our goal is to build bridges
with nonprofits and to motivate people into a lifelong commitment to volunteering and community service,” said Mandy, a fourth-generation member of Park Heights Baptist Church.

She said her faith motivates her desire to infuse young people with a community-service mindset and to give them experiences that ingrain awareness that they can make a difference.

She sees a change in the pattern of volunteerism. Once people volunteered through organizations. Now, she said, they volunteer individually, doing a project and leaving.
Mandy said that AmeriCorps encourages teachers to involve students in service learning because “the best predictor of whether someone will volunteer is if the person volunteered as a child or youth.

“Our goal is to infuse people with a service mindset so they want to and know they can make a difference,” said Mandy.

For information, call 535-1613.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © October 2007