FRANKFORT, KY -- "I will…make our people safer, smarter, and healthier… strengthen our communities… take action… seek common ground… persevere… I will get things done."
Although these words were spoken on the front steps of the state Capitol building, the occasion wasn’t a campaign rally. Instead, these words were spoken at the launch of the AmeriCorps’ 10th year of service to the Commonwealth. Three days of training, orientation and fellowship wrapped up Sept. 30 as 175 new AmeriCorps members took the oath of service.
The Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service (KCCVS) of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services administers the state AmeriCorps program.
Sometimes called the domestic Peace Corps, AmeriCorps has placed nearly 2,500 members in service programs across Kentucky since 1994. And, AmeriCorps members have been getting things done – from mentoring and tutoring children, providing disaster response and supporting homeland security to building low-cost housing and providing debt counseling and essential services to the homeless and at-risk elderly.
Members and must complete 1,700 hours of service during a one-year term for which they receive an annual living allowance of $10,197. After one year of service, they are eligible for an educational award of up to $4,725 to help pay for college or repay student loans.
Administering the oath of service, Lieutenant Governor Steve Pence expressed gratitude for the enormous contributions AmeriCorps members make in the lives of so many Kentuckians.
"I couldn’t say in two hours what your service means to the Commonwealth, so I’ll simply say two words. On behalf of not only Governor Fletcher and myself, but all Kentuckians, thank you," Pence said. He challenged members to "ask what’s possible, not what’s easy" in their AmeriCorps service and throughout their lives.
The theme of this year’s AmeriCorps launch was "AmeriCorps members leave tracks." Before the swearing in ceremony, members shared some of their hopes and expectations for the tracks they’d leave during the next year.
Sue Meadows, a 47-year-old mother of two, serves as a housing counselor for victims of domestic violence at the Shelter of Hope in Ashland. For 30 years before joining AmeriCorps, she decorated cakes at a bakery.
"For the first time in 30 years I can say I love what I do," Meadows said. She will graduate from Ashland Community College in December with an associate’s degree, and will use her educational award to pursue a career as a women’s shelter operator.
Jessie Crozier, 18, moved to Northern Kentucky from Central Illinois just to be part of the Kentucky AmeriCorps program. He has very high expectations for his year of service with the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky. "I’m here to change the world one family and one house at a time," he said.
Ed Beacom, an older member of the 2005 recruiting class who works with the Senior Connections program of the Green River Area Development District in Owensboro (GRADD), was impressed and inspired by the selfless attitudes of the younger members.
"There are so many young people here willing to give their time at a point in their development when most their age are trying to figure out how to get their first beemer (BMW)," Beacom said. "It will be very much to their advantage in the future to have sacrificed and served and they’ll make an enormous difference to a lot of people."
Karen Griffin of Hancock County, a recently divorced registered nurse and mother of two college students, said her AmeriCorps service with the GRADD Homeland Security program exposed her to a new career path.
"I’m fascinated by the training I’ve received and experience I’m getting working with law enforcement, fire and rescue and disaster response groups," Griffin said. After her AmeriCorps service she plans to use her educational award to pursue a masters degree in emergency management.
Eileen Cackowski, Executive Director of KCCVS said every AmeriCorps recruit is one person going into service and an entirely different person afterward.
"While they all join out of a spirit of service, most have other motives for joining," she said. "But, at the end of their service, it’s never the job or education award they consider most valuable. It’s always the lives they’ve changed for the better, the hope they’ve inspired and the good they’ve done that means the most to them."
There are eight Kentucky AmeriCorps programs serving 67 counties. For more information on the AmeriCorps program, phone the KCCVS toll free at 1-800-239-7404 or visit the KCCVS website at http://volunteerky.ky.gov/acprograms.asp.
Note to editors: To contact an AmeriCorps program director in your area for localized coverage, please call Lisa Wallace at (502) 564-6180 ext. 4013