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Saving AmeriCorps

Saving AmeriCorpsThreatened with program funding cuts, AmeriCorps volunteers – which include more than 40 Tufts students – are speaking out about the benefits of service. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.24.03] Last year, more than 67,000 people enrolled in AmeriCorps, a national organization which provides volunteers for thousands of nonprofit organizations, including Jumpstart, City Year, and Teach for America. But due to a budget shortfall, the agency finds itself $200 million short for next year - and in a fight for emergency funding from Congress. Volunteers - including many Tufts students and alumni - say the program is worthwhile, and are urging for the government to restore at least some of the funding gap.

"This is the best job I've ever had," Tufts student Tiaira Winn told The Christian Science Monitor about her volunteer experience.

Winn is one of 43 Tufts students who last year worked for Jumpstart through AmeriCorps. A national nonprofit that pairs Head Start preschoolers with mentors, Jumpstart may lose funding for 78 percent of their programs next year.

This is bad news not only for volunteers like Winn, but for the children they are helping to learn. Last year, Winn met with a preschooler in Roxbury each week, teaching her reading skills and improving her English.

"When I first started working with her, she didn't say much in group circles," Winn told the Monitor. "But near the end, she got really excited...She liked the ‘Big Green Monster' book. She loved to count." Winn thought the experience so valuable that she kept working for the organization past the school year and into the summer, teaching groups of kids.

And she is not alone in pledging support for the organization. Tufts President Lawrence Bacow was among more than 190 college and university presidents and chancellors who signed a letter to President George W. Bush urging him to support emergency funding aid for Americorps. Other members of the Tufts community are speaking out as well.

"For my entire college career and years afterward, I have been a volunteer, a Corps member and a strong believer in national service - specifically Jumpstart," wrote Tufts graduate Marisa Matsudaira in a letter to the editor of Newsweek.

In a letter published in the July 14 issue of Newsweek, Matsudaira wrote that volunteers in social services and schools are needed now more than ever.

"I have witnessed the effect that service programs have had on hundreds of young volunteers and on the children and families who have welcomed AmeriCorps members into their lives," wrote the Tufts graduate.

Melinda Russell, who manages the program at Tufts, praises the dedication of the students - many of whom choose to do AmeriCorps as their work-study position. It's "a way they can give," she said.

Part-time workers from Tufts receive a $1,000 education award from the university. Full time AmeriCorps volunteers receive less than $15,000 per year.

"Russell, who served for two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Lake Tahoe, says that having to live on poverty-level wages helped open her eyes to what the people she was working with faced every day," reported the Monitor.

As she told the Monitor, "It put you on a more equal playing field. You'd be working with kids who are crying because they have a toothache, and you'd want to cry too, because your teeth hurt but you don't have dental insurance."

The House is expected to vote on whether to provide $100 million emergency funding to AmeriCorps in the next week - funding which will decide the fate of many jobs and programs.

Until then, as Russell told the Monitor, "Everyone is in limbo."


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