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As more volunteers apply for AmeriCorps, funding shrinks

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
AmeriCorps volunteer Gabby DeMarchi (center), 22, of Greenfield, helps Tiera Gordon (left), 7, of Homestead, with her homework during an after school program run by The United Methodist Union of Social Agencies at Barrett Elementary School in Homestead on Thursday. Behind them sits Jabria Green, 9, of Homestead.

Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Nearly 300 of the state's newest AmeriCorps members will start their year of service on Friday in Lawrenceville, but local officials say that they are losing funding just as demand grows among prospective volunteers.

PennServe, the state commission that allocates federal money for various AmeriCorps programs in the state, said it has funding for 1,100 positions this year, down from 1,800 last year.

With the economy making it harder for many people to get a job right after college, more have been applying for the national community service program during the past few years, said Helen Wachter, director of the AmeriCorps program Knowledge to Empower Youth to Success (KEYS) program in Allegheny County.

Federal sequestration reduced funding for Pennsylvania's AmeriCorps programs by 10 percent between 2012 and 2013. The state received $6.65 million in funding requests for AmeriCorps programs but had only $3.9 million to distribute, Wachter said.

“Not only was the allocation less, but there was a swell of applications for members,” she said. Between 400 and 500 people applied to KEYS last year.

AmeriCorps members in the KEYS program work full-time for a year for a living allowance of $12,250 and a scholarship or student loan reimbursement of up to $5,550. Through the program, they tutor and mentor kids as young as kindergarten-age and adults 18 to 24. They work for schools, community groups and faith-based organizations in struggling communities, said Steve Hussar, KEYS' training coordinator.

In Braddock, KEYS members help run the Braddock Youth Project, staff local playgrounds during the summer and lend their labor to clean-up projects that can't be filled with local volunteers alone, said Mayor John Fetterman, who discovered Braddock while an AmeriCorps volunteer in Pittsburgh in the late 1990s.

“AmeriCorps helps us accomplish so much in Braddock. Anything that affects AmeriCorps adversely is going to affect Braddock adversely,” Fetterman said.

Kara Petrosky, 30, was a KEYS member from 2010 to 2011 who worked at Holy Family Institute, tutoring and mentoring young men in a group home. She was a German teacher for four years after college but wanted to do more community service.

“That was the direction I knew I wanted to go, and I used my year with AmeriCorps as a transition,” said Petrosky, a West View resident who now works full-time for Holy Family.

With the budget cuts, a mix of 114 full-time and part-time KEYS members will be sworn in on Friday, compared with 149 last year, Wachter said. They will immediately fan out to maintain benches in Arsenal Park, paint roofs as part of the city's energy-saving “cool roofs” initiative and weed and do general maintenance in Allegheny Cemetery.

In addition to the KEYS members, representatives of the Pittsburgh Health Corps, Compass AmeriCorps, Family Service Corps of Butler County, Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps and others will be among 280 sworn in.

“It's not like anyone (in AmeriCorps) is very expensive to bring on. … They pay you right along the poverty line,” said Jack Daugherty, 24, of South Side Slopes and an AmeriCorps volunteer in 2011-12. “Yet we're doing just as much work, if not more, than any salaried person.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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