Saving Northwest Service Academy

The Pacific Northwest national service community has been rocked this past week with the news that one of our most vibrant AmeriCorps National programs has lost its AmeriCorps funding starting in September of 2010.

Northwest Service Academy‘s AmeriCorps program partners with local agencies, schools, and organizations to tackle environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest.  Its LINKS program works with partnering agencies to directly address education, public safety, the environment and other community needs. It’s sponsored and supported over 4,000 AmeriCorps members.

The funding situation means that as things currently stand, this year’s members will serve out their terms (as late as November) but the 75 placement sites already selected for the coming year will likely not be able to recruit people to fill needed service positions.

While there’s never a guarantee of continued funding for any national service program, the news of Corporation’s decision not to fund Northwest Service Academy has come as a punch in the gut here. NWSA staff still don’t know why their funding proposal has been declined, despite meeting or exceeding performance and financial evaluations, and serving crucial roles in the environmental health of the region.

At Idealist’s Portland office, I’ve gotten to know Northwest Service Academy’s work in a variety of ways: through working with current NWSA members who’ve taken internships with us; through staying in touch with interns who go on to terms of AmeriCorps service with NWSA; through serving as an occasional community reader for NWSA placement sites; and through having the honor from time to time to train NWSA corps members. Last summer I wrote about NWSA’s Achievements Symposium — an inspiring annual event that highlights the work of the entire service corps.

The program attracts extremely high calibre AmeriCorps members — people regularly  join NWSA after finishing Master’s programs and Peace Corps assignments — to do innovative environmental work in a region known for its cutting-edge development and conservation practices. And NWSA also sets its members up for success through stellar ongoing training and team leadership. During an AmeriCorps Week 2009 interview with Sara Lozito, a former intern who went on to serve with NWSA, she said that she’d heard many people say, “This town runs on Northwest Service Academy.” I regularly tell newcomers to Portland who want to work on sustainability issues to consider applying for NWSA, for the experience, training, and networks.

In response to the service corps’s funding crisis, a Facebook group “Save Northwest Service Academy” has already attracted over 550 members, many of whom have expressed their dismay. Many people are confused about why, in a year when the Serve America Act has increased funding for national service, a shining example of what AmeriCorps can accomplish for an entire region has had its funding ended. …Especially when NWSA addresses environmental concerns, one of the Serve America Act’s priority areas. (See the funding announcement from CNCS yesterday.)

Normally, groups in NWSA’s position can appeal the Corporation’s decision, but this year it’s apparently not possible.

Supporters are also signing an online petition.

Finally, here is the letter from Northwest Service Academy’s executive director Tim Foley, explaining the situation and inviting letters of support from people in the communities touched by NWSA:

June 2, 2010

Dear valued friends, partners, and alums of the Northwest Service Academy:

I received notification on Friday, May 28, that the Northwest Service Academy’s proposal for continued AmeriCorps funding was not selected.

I wanted to let you know what this means for your organization and our other sponsoring partners.  Members currently placed sponsoring organizations will continue until the completion of their term of service.  Members slated to begin terms of service after August 31, 2010 will not be placed.

Educational Service District 112, located in Vancouver, Washington, has been a recipient of AmeriCorps funds to support NWSA since 1993, and has always met or exceeded performance and financial evaluations.  NWSA has often been singled out as a model AmeriCorps program and a standard bearer for what is possible in national service programs.  We have managed roughly 4,000 AmeriCorps members who have contributed millions of dollars to local economies and community organizations through their efforts.

In the 2008-2009 program year alone, NWSA AmeriCorps members:

  1. Recruited and engaged over 36,000 community volunteers in community service projects
  2. Educated or engaged over 97,000 students
  3. Monitored or removed 54,997 acres of invasive plants
  4. Planted or cared for 208,000 native trees, plants and shrubs
  5. Built or maintained 513 miles of public trails

For these reasons and more, we are surprised and disappointed in the Corporation for National and Community Service’s decision not to renew funding for this exemplary program.  ESD 112 and NWSA leadership is diligently working to find opportunities to continue the excellent programs that our community has come to expect.

Helping community organizations build capacity has been a strategic focus of NWSA for many years.  For this reason, I invite you to share with us stories of the impact NWSA AmeriCorps members have had on your organization.  Now is an important time to reflect upon the impact that NWSA has had on local communities and to imagine what is still yet to come.

If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me or your local NWSA center.

Thank you for your continued support of the Northwest Service Academy.  We look forward to partnering with you again in the near future.

Yours in service,

Tim Foley

Executive Director, Northwest Service Academy

Are you an NWSA alum? Host site staffer or other partner? What would the loss of NWSA mean to you and your community?

11 thoughts on “Saving Northwest Service Academy

  1. I’d like to share the contents of a letter I recently sent to NWSA:

    In 2007 I moved 2,000 miles from home to take a job with Northwest Service Academy through Americorps. Despite having no prior knowledge of the Northwest and limited initial experience pertaining to my new job, it was the best move I’ve made in my life. NWSA nurtured me at a crucial time in my professional development – I was well-educated but on the brink of disillusionment, thinking that I could never advance professionally or find my niche. The professional opportunity I found at NWSA resuscitated my passion for serving the community and our environment. I also found a very welcoming and like-minded community at NWSA, which outstayed my term and is the sole reason I stayed in Portland to wait out the 7-month underemployed period that ensued after the downturn of the economy and the completion of my Americorps service.

    2 years later I am gainfully employed and still extremely grateful to NWSA. The encouragement I received there as a budding professional continues to have lasting effects. The skills they offer to young professionals in this specialized field is unparalleled as far as Americorps jobs go. Nationwide, there is no other Americorps program that is so focused on the evolving field of Environmental Sustainability, and thus it has become a breeding ground for new leaders in the industry.

    I support NWSA from the perspective of a participant, but let us not forget the dozens and dozens of organizations that will suffer without the affordable well-qualified humanpower that NWSA provides to our local governments, schools and non-profits, who are also suffering in this economy. Without NWSA’s Americorps volunteers many environmental education and conservation programs will suffer, and many beneficial projects will be scrapped just as they were starting to build momentum.

    Few people realize the financial sacrifices that educated Americorps volunteers make to serve their regional communities; Northwest Service Academy offers a community that makes those sacrifices worth the price that is paid. I’d be happy to do what I can to support NWSA through this difficult time.

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  3. Thanks for this great post about the NWSA! The program is one of few in the nation that puts a premium on excellence in service as well as providing professional and personal growth opportunities to those who serve. I encourage the thousands of people who have been impacted by NWSA members and staff to share their experiences and hopefully we’ll build a loud enough chorus that we draw out a change from CNCS.

  4. I served with Northwest Service Academy 1996-1997 as an environmental educator at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. I still call that the best job I ever had. I learned more things through that experience than I could have in any job or more school. That year I learned how to work with people of all backgrounds, the… humbling experience of applying for and using food stamps, what I was good at and what I needed to work on, how to live simply, how to eradicate invasive species and work with homeless children, and finally how to live on my own. I also developed professional skills that I carry with me today and that have helped me get many jobs. NWSA gave me the opportunity to serve my country and understand what service truly is.

  5. I served at the Trout Lake campus in 95-96. I went on to serve a term on the Peace Corps and upon my return I took a job as the state director for Florida State Parks AmeriCorps. After years of leading the next gem of AmeriCorps Alum, I now run a T&E species program for Florida.

    I love NWSA. It was the best year of my life! CNCS is foolish to let this program go.

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  8. Maybe the problem is Americorps NCCC. There is pressure to join the Corps Network and, if you haven’t, there are political lobbying losses like not being able to go to school while serving. For example, VISTA is allowed, while other Corps Network affiliate CNCS groups are not allowed. This is the lobby.

    Peace Corps is also closely affiliated with VISTA having been under the same corporation in the past. This is another lobby that works with the Corps Network.

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  10. Northwest Service Academy is a member of the Corps Network (see the list of member corps). But the program design and goals are not very similar in any way to NCCC.

    And you can’t attend school during a VISTA term of service, though AmeriCorps State and National members can. I am not sure the reason behind the distinctions except the programs have distinct histories; VISTA began in the mid 60s and VISTA volunteers were intended to be committed to their service and communities 24/7 thus no time for school. Maybe someone else has more knowledge on this one?

  11. The policy for VISTA is in the comment. Where is the policy allowing school for the other programs?

    While VISTA are committed, they do not do ‘direct service’ like laboring in the woods. They recruit other volunteers now. Maybe this is the difference and they are allowed school(CNCS VISTA Education Policy AV-2010-02 ). I think you ran into a lobby or something. Political?

    If you know where I can find education and work(second job) policies for all CNCS programs that would help a lot.

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