Bumper crop of Americorps members join Juneau

The 13 members are focused heavily on early childhood education.

Americorps members participate in a videoconference with program coordinator Shari Paul during their orientation. (Courtesy photo / Shari Paul)

Americorps members participate in a videoconference with program coordinator Shari Paul during their orientation. (Courtesy photo / Shari Paul)

A rainy summer and a strange year haven’t dampened the spirits of the Americorps members coming to Juneau this summer.

Thirteen Americorps members will work in Juneau this year, including two returning members, said Americorps program director Shari Paul in a phone interview.

“It’s a large group. We had 60 applications, I think,” Paul said. “Because of the economy and because of COVID, there’s a huge increase in people applying across the country. Sitka has 29 members, which is their largest ever.”

Americorps, which works as a part of the United Way of Southeast Alaska, had eight members last year. Paul welcomes the larger group as a sign that more people are willing to work with the Americorps members for mutual benefit.

“With COVID we’re all going to have to be flexible. We’re hoping members will be able to serve a majority of their time at the work site,” Paul said. “They’re going to have to interact with students with families using whichever program they use.”

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Members arrived in Juneau two weeks ahead of time before they were due to appear at their work sites, Paul said, to allow for time to quarantine. Since then, their time has been taken up by training and orientation. Presentations ranged from things like the history and politics of the Southeast with state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, to Juneau’s trail systems with Trail Mix Inc. executive director Ryan O’Shaughnessy, Paul said.

“It was definitely a strange time to move somewhere new,” aid Jordan Frodge, one of the new members. “I haven’t been west of the Mississippi. This is my first time. It’s also been a good time to see the community without the tourism.”

Frodge joined Americorps after the mass recall of the Peace Corps. She employed her skills teaching in Namibia. Frodge will be working at Little Eagles and Ravens Nest with the children at the child care center. Frodge says she intends to pursue a graduate degree in speech pathology in the future.

“The main focus for our program over the next three years is to improve academic literacy for pre-K through 3rd grade,” Paul said.

Six of the new members, including Frodge, are sited in schools or child care centers to this end. Paul said she hopes members will be able to get personal contact with the young ones to best do their jobs. Members will be serving at Gastineau Elementary, Riverbend Elementary, Glacier Valley Elementary, Harborview Elementary, Mendenhall River Community School, Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition, LEARN Childcare Center, AEYC, Southeast Regional Resource Center, Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, Zack Gordon Youth Center and Alaska Housing Development Corp – Gruening Park Family Center.

“With child literacy, a lot of that is so dependent on getting in person with the kids,” Frodge said. “Till then, it’s a good time to be working with families more directly.

The hardest part of getting new members up is the paperwork, and often, the airfares, Paul said. She could have accepted a few more, Paul said, but 13 was a good number without quite risking biting off too much. The orientations have gone for two weeks now over Zoom, with new members from Juneau and Sitka getting 4-8 hours of presentations each day.

“This is my new plan,” said Frodge, referring to her initial plan to be in Namibia for 27 months. “We all feel lucky to be living somewhere that isn’t extremely dependent on things being open.”

Paul said she hopes that the pandemic eases off soon and the members are able to experience some of the great things about Juneau.

“Part of the Juneau experience is experiencing our arts and culture. Going to First Friday, the seven-minute stories, all the arts and cultures,” Paul said. “I’m hoping at some point things open up so they get to experience the beauty of Juneau.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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