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.
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:
- Recruited and engaged over 36,000 community volunteers in community service projects
- Educated or engaged over 97,000 students
- Monitored or removed 54,997 acres of invasive plants
- Planted or cared for 208,000 native trees, plants and shrubs
- 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,
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?