On Cape Cod, AmeriCorps volunteers provide voluntary manpower, saving towns hundreds of thousands of dollars and enabling many environmental projects. But with a sweep of a pen this week, AmeriCorps could be banished from the landscape.
You’ve seen them cleaning up trails on conservation lands, pulling up fragmites, planting beach and eel grass and clearing out herring runs. On Cape Cod, AmeriCorps volunteers provide voluntary manpower, saving towns hundreds of thousands of dollars and enabling many environmental projects.
But with a sweep of a pen this week, AmeriCorps could be banished from the landscape not only here, but all over the Commonwealth. Gov. Deval Patrick this week vetoed a line item from the Fiscal Year 2007-2008 budget that had allocated $900,000 for AmeriCorps in Massachusetts.
AmeriCorps is a national network of programs that engages nearly 75,000 Americans each year in service to meet critical needs in education, the environment, public safety, homeland security and other areas. Communities define the use of the grant based on its particular needs; for Barnstable County, AmeriCorps volunteers have been assigned to environmental programs. Twenty-six young adults, ranging in age from 26 to 35, are currently working on Cape Cod for individual towns and the county.
“This comes as a surprise to many of us who believe that the governor supports AmeriCorps, community service, and volunteerism in Massachusetts,” said Molly Goggin, chief of staff of the Massachusetts Service Alliance, the state commission on community service and volunteerism, which offers training, resources, advocacy, fiscal and programmatic for AmeriCorps programs in the state.
Goggin said funding for AmeriCorps was included in the governor's budget in February. “Unfortunately, the state budget process is a complicated one and the governor's action ... to veto earmarks within the Workforce Training Fund inadvertently eliminated AmeriCorps funding.”
Earmarks are specific funding details included within a line item.
Goggin is hoping the Legislature can override the governor’s veto. Already, community members have been writing to state representatives, asking them to support an override.
State Rep. Sarah Peake (4th Barnstable District) said Wednesday she had already received “scores” of e-mails from constituents who support the program.
“It ranks among the top issues people are corresponding to me about,” she said. “I think AmeriCorps does so much good work on the Cape, from cleaning up Thompson’s Field in Harwich to shellfish propagation in Provincetown, their work is far and wide, and they have touched a lot of people.”
In order for the Legislature to consider any overrides, legislators must formally request them, in writing to the Speaker of the House. Peake is drafting a letter to the speaker, Salvatore DiMasi, asking him to consider overriding the AmeriCorps veto, along with some other line items that affect the Lower Cape district (cuts of $15,000 for WECAN and $250,000 for Outer Cape Health Services).
Since the start of the AmeriCorps Cape Cod program in 1999, 163 members have provided more than 310,000 hours of service in natural resource management, disaster preparedness and environmental education across the Cape's 15 towns, saving $5.6 million for town, county, state or federal agencies, according to Michael Lach, assistant director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts and member of the regional AmeriCorps Advisory Board.
“We hope people will contact their state legislators, and urge them to restore funding. AmeriCorps represents tremendous volunteer value for the Cape, especially during this time of tight town and county budgets,” he said.
To run AmeriCorps Cape Cod, Barnstable County receives a federal grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the county is required to come up with a 15 percent cash match per year. The American Red Cross contributes $4,000 for supplies. Barnstable County and the Cape Cod National Seashore also make in-kind donations of two residences to house AmeriCorps members.
Without the $900,000 state investment in AmeriCorps in FY08, the Massachusetts Service Alliance said it would be unable to leverage over $10 million in federal grants.
That would result in the elimination of 22 AmeriCorps programs across the state.
It means, said program director Darlene Johnson-Morris, that the Commonwealth would lose the contribution of 1,200 AmeriCorps members and 16,605 volunteers who provide more than 1.3 million hours of service annually.”
The terms of receiving federal grants require a program administrator, explained said Mary Schumacher, regional supervisor for AmeriCorps Cape Cod.
In addition to working on specific projects, AmeriCorps members also plan and implement volunteer projects to engage community volunteers in service. Each year a large project is planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and for Earth Day in April. The experience often paves the way for paid employment for these often-recent college graduates.
Ben Wright of Kansas arrived on Cape Cod on Sept. 13, 2004. “I’d never heard of the Cape before then,” said Wright, now 26.
After college he’d contemplated joining the Peace Corps but wanted a shorter commitment and signed on with AmeriCorps. He was assigned to the Cape Cod Commission and the Barnstable County Cooperative Extension Service, working with shellfish, on land management and doing trailblazing. “The work gave me valuable skills,” skills in fact he attributes to his being hired by the Harwich Conservation Trust and Chatham Conservation Foundation recently.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said about the loss of funding. “People were just beginning to be aware of AmeriCorps Cape Cod and what they enable communities to do.”
July 26 will be a bittersweet day for the current AmeriCorps crew, as they complete their 11 months of service with a graduation ceremony. Before the governor’s veto, another 11 volunteers would have been making plans to come to Cape Cod to begin work under the second year of the three-year Barnstable County AmeriCorps grant.
“The hardest thing for them is they are so invested in the program and hearing the program may be eliminated is a bit of a punch in the stomach,” said Schumacher.