Update June 12, 2009: Check out this article from Youth Today, for background information on the connection between the Kevin Johnson controversy and CNCS’s Inspector General Gerald Walpin, removed from his position by Obama this week.
Sometimes site supervisors who host AmeriCorps members don’t quite get it
Kevin Johnson, former Phoenix Suns point guard, is in trouble with the Corporation for National and Community Service.
According to the LA Times, the Corporation is suspending funding for St. HOPE Academy’s Neighborhood Corps pending allegations that its AmeriCorps members have been instructed to take part in activities outside the scope of the program’s contract with the Corporation. Johnson founded the organization 19 years ago, and stepped down as CEO in June to devote energy to his mayoral campaign.
The LA Times reports that Johnson allegedly enlisted AmeriCorps members to wash his car and drive him to appointments, among other menial tasks that AmeriCorps members are not only not funded to do, but are usually annoyed when asked to do.
An AmeriCorps member is similar to a human resource grant, and as with a monetary grant, must be engaged according to the grant’s guidelines. When organizations write a grant proposal to request funding for AmeriCorps members, they must spell out clearly what the members will spend their time doing. The Corporation also has very specific focus areas that it funds, such as mobilizing volunteers, and bringing postive changes to the lives of children and youth through mentoring and tutoring.
(Further, all AmeriCorps members are prohibited from providing direct benefit to a partisan political organization, attempting to influence legislation, organizing or engaging in protests, participating in union organizing, and other things.)
Occasionally, an AmeriCorps member’s supervisor or colleague doesn’t understand the restrictions of a member’s service. In these cases, members (or AmeriCorps program staff) have to clarify these boundaries with the agencies they serve with and for. A classic example is an officemate who asks an AmeriCorps member to make photocopies for projects unrelated to the member’s service.
Usually the request is made innocently enough, because the staff member isn’t educated about the perameters of AmeriCorps service.
But it’s a tough position for the AmeriCorps member to be in, because they often like and respect their colleagues, want a good reference from the host agency, and want to be a team player.
Johnson, who has won awards for his community service achievements, is running for mayor in Sacramento, his hometown.
Neighborhood (or Hood) Corps’ mission is to empower youth and to “recruit, train and mobilize young adults to become civic leaders committed to revitalizing inner-city communities” as an alternative to gang participation. Despite the controversy, it is an example of a program that transforms the lives of the AmeriCorps members as much as it transforms the lives of its clients.
11/05/08 Update: Kevin Johnson won the Sacramento mayoral race.