Genevieve Schmidt, AmeriCorps servicemember, meets with other members of AmeriCorps working in Juneau this year, Jan. 10, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Genevieve Schmidt, AmeriCorps servicemember, meets with other members of AmeriCorps working in Juneau this year, Jan. 10, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Come to help, stay for the community: Meet Juneau’s AmeriCorps volunteers

Seeing the country and lending a hand isn’t a bad way to spend a year.

Many people come to Alaska to see its landscapes and wildlife, but fewer come to help its people.

However, that’s just what this year’s eight AmeriCorps volunteers did.

“This kind of fell into my lap, and I thought living in Alaska would be a weird and interesting thing to do while still getting job experience,” said Maggie Dalrymple, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with United Way who previously attended college in Ohio. “It’s been really refreshing to see communities like this.”

AmeriCorps is a civilian service program that sends volunteers to work with nonprofit organizations across the United States. The servicemembers receive a small monthly stipend for food and housing while working without pay with the organizations they applied with to assist.

“It brings in new blood, ideas, energy,” Shari Paul, the AmeriCorps program manager for Juneau, said. “We try to put them in agencies that need that extra service support. We don’t replace an employee, we help organizations meet an unmet need.”

AmeriCorps servicemembers meet for a monthly meeting to discuss their work and a possible joint volunteer project, Jan. 10, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

AmeriCorps servicemembers meet for a monthly meeting to discuss their work and a possible joint volunteer project, Jan. 10, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

This year, there were eight AmeriCorps positions in Juneau, filled by AmeriCorps servicemembers. Next year, Paul said she hopes to have 12 positions for servicemembers. She’s currently meeting with other local interested organizations, seeing if they’d be interested in making the commitment and if they’d be a good fit with AmeriCorps.

The eight local organizations currently partnered with AmeriCorps, or that have participated in the past, are: Association for the Education of Young Children, Zach Gordon Youth Center, Harborview Elementary School, Housing First, AWARE, SERRC, the Office of Children’s Services and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé CHOICE program in conjunction with United Way.

“I’d done a lot of work with food banks and food justice in Detroit, and I wanted to see what else there was,” said Genevieve Schmidt, an AmeriCorps servicemember working with the Learning Connection. “I wanted something, and I wanted an adventure. I’d lived in Detroit my whole life.”

After interviewing with both Paul and their prospective organization, AmeriCorps members are accepted to the program. Servicemembers come from across the country to fill the more than 180 positions in Alaska, fulfilling a 1,700-hour obligation to their hosting organization. That works out to about 42 40-hour weeks. Members arrive in Juneau around mid-August each year to mesh up with the school year, Paul said.

Maggie Dalrymple, AmeriCorps servicemember, meets with other members of AmeriCorps working in Juneau this year, Jan. 10, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Maggie Dalrymple, AmeriCorps servicemember, meets with other members of AmeriCorps working in Juneau this year, Jan. 10, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

“I love it. I’m already thinking about making plans to stay longer,” Dalrymple said. “It’s so beautiful here. I love the community here. I feel like the community is taking good care of us here.”

Most of the servicemembers this year are working in small organizations. Paul said the fresh energy these members bring to the organization, and the experience working in the real world that the organizations can offer, makes it a win-win scenario for everyone involved. Paul mentioned at least one servicemember was considering doing a second year with AmeriCorps in Juneau. Servicemembers can work for a maximum of two years.

“The AmeriCorps are appreciative of the welcoming environment here and that’s really helpful for keeping servicemembers here,” Paul said.

The servicemembers are currently working on developing a plan to provide healthy activities for children from elementary through high school, including games, crafts and homework help, Dalrymple said. Previous projects have included volunteering for United Way’s Day of Caring, assembling furniture at a childcare center, and baking cookies for first responders for 9/11.

Interested in joining AmeriCorps?

Paul will be hosting a booth at the University of Alaska Southeast job fair on Feb. 11, for those interested in more information about the AmeriCorps organization.

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

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