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CarolAnne Dube: AmeriCorps a part of your community

May 12th, 2008

By BDN Staff

Saturday, May 10, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

Everywhere you go across the state there is evidence of AmeriCorps’ effect on our communities. From Wiscasset to Bangor, AmeriCorps members have rehabbed, repaired and constructed handicapped-accessible housing. The trail on Cutler Coast in Washington County was built by AmeriCorps members. In 1999, AmeriCorps members helped expand Born to Read, a program that thrives still in 2008. In Ellsworth, AmeriCorps members started the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

We have had 2,250 AmeriCorps members serving Maine communities for 15 years. AmeriCorps members are so embedded in our communities and in the programs they serve they often don’t stand out. AmeriCorps Week, May 11-18 , is an opportunity to bring more Americans into service, to salute members and alumni for their powerful contributions and to thank the community partners who make AmeriCorps possible.

Bessie Wright is in her second term as an AmeriCorps member with The Maine Conservation Corps serving at the Penobscot County Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of the University of Maine and holds bachelor’s degrees in ecology and environmental science as well as wildlife ecology. One of the many projects Wright is working on is the Pushaw Watershed Project. Her efforts are helping to ensure Pushaw Lake, a popular recreation area for many Bangor-area residents, remains healthy for generations to come. Wright works with property owners in the area through grants to help them repair land and prevent erosion. One of the major accomplishments of this project has been to recrown, install culverts and dig ditches on 2 miles of Beechwood Avenue to prevent further erosion of the road.

This project has had an enormous effect on Pushaw by preventing 15 tons of soil each year from getting into the lake. There are more than 900 camps on Pushaw Lake that enjoy a cleaner healthier lake thanks to Wright and The Conversation Corps team.

Wright’s commitment to the environment doesn’t end there. She also provides free science education classes to schools and other local organizations. She teaches students that there are simple things they can do to protect Maine’s natural resources such as washing vehicles at a carwash where runoff is controlled and picking up after your pet so what they leave behind doesn’t end up in streams and lakes.

Wright joined AmeriCorps to help the community and to gain valuable job skills as a new college graduate. She is thrilled to report the Penobscot County Soil and Water Conservation District will be hiring her full time after she completes her AmeriCorps service.

AmeriCorps also has a great effect on those who serve. Joining AmeriCorps provides access to an education award that may be used to pay for college, graduate school and even pay back existing qualified student loans. What does this mean for Maine? Thirty-seven percent of members come from out of state and 80 percent are college graduates. Of more than 2,000 members who have come to Maine, one-third decided to stay. This means through the AmeriCorps Program, Maine is attracting and retaining young educated professionals, which is a win-win for communities and young people alike.

AmeriCorps can also help local people interested in service gain new job skills. A report just released by The Corporation for National and Community Service indicates about 80 percent of members reported their service exposed them to new career options. Joely Ross, a program manager for many of Maine’s AmeriCorps projects, says "about 10 percent of her members are hired on by the site they were placed in as AmeriCorps members."

There are many opportunities to get involved locally during AmeriCorps week even if you’re not a member. Consider joining the Bangor Area Storm Water Group during the 4th Annual Stream Cleanup on May 11. There will be groups working together along the Penobscot River from Winterport to Milford. After the morning cleanup, a neighborhood celebration with great prizes and fun will be held. If you want to learn more about getting involved in this and other efforts in your area, visit www.volunteermaine.org for a complete listing of volunteer opportunities in Maine during AmeriCorps week and all year long.

CarolAnne Dube is the director of development for St. Joseph Healthcare and vice chair of the Maine Commission for Community Service.