St. Paul-area nonprofits get $4 million AmeriCorps boost

Fredrick Melo

College Possible already helps low-income high school students reach for college. Now, with the goal of ensuring those students get their caps and gowns, the nonprofit will recruit 20 young AmeriCorps members to track and mentor participants after their big leap to higher education.

Another 28 national service members will staff the Minnesota GreenCorps, a statewide environmental outreach effort overseen by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Others will teach computer skills to immigrants or work with at-risk elementary students.

While shrinking nationally, AmeriCorps in St. Paul is about to nearly double in size.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, announced $4 million in grants to place more than 360 young people, seniors and working professionals in St. Paul-area nonprofits. Last year, AmeriCorps recruited 196 members within McCollum's district.

The funds will support seven major programs. Additional funds will go out-state.

AmeriCorps staffs schools, government agencies and nonprofits that specialize in disaster readiness, teaching and literacy, environmental protection, economic development and community programs. With service commitments generally running for about a year at a time, most members work for low wages but qualify for college scholarships or student loan forgiveness at the end of their service term.

"National service is a critical and cost-effective approach to solving problems," McCollum said in a conference call with reporters.

Among programs, the St. Paul Neighborhood Network will receive $411,000 to place 35 AmeriCorps members in its "Community Technology Empowerment Project," which teaches computer and tech skills to low-income residents, immigrants and people of color.

Based at University and Hampden avenues in St. Paul, the Minnesota Alliance with Youth will receive $1.1 million to place 90 AmeriCorps members in youth mentoring roles in schools and other youth-related non-profits. Overall, the alliance will place 170 AmeriCorps members statewide.

Spencer and her staff said nonprofits everywhere are competing for smaller numbers of grants and foundation support has narrowed. That's left them eager to tap the energy of AmeriCorps recruits for temporary assignments.

Nationally, however, two out of three nonprofits were turned down for AmeriCorps grant renewals as a result of the federal budget sequester. Most grants run for three years.

In St. Paul, however, all five existing AmeriCorps programs received continued funding. Two new programs -- College Possible's college mentor program and the Minnesota Alliance with Youth -- were added to the list of grant recipients.

The Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa, which sent AmeriCorps workers to help with disaster relief after hurricanes struck the East Coast, will receive nearly $1 million to place 108 AmeriCorps members in a variety of roles, from disaster mitigation to energy education and trail construction.

"They've deployed to Hurricane Sandy," said Samantha Warfield, a spokeswoman for the Corporation for National and Community Service. "They were some of the first people on the ground."

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