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Commission Minutes

December 20, 2019

Present: Ed Barrett, Celeste Branham, Mathison Deering, David Burns, Julia Fiori, Matthew L’Italien, Jessica Nixon, Anne Ostberg, Nicole Pellenz, Lisa Phelps, John Portela, Jenifer Tilton-Flood

Public Comment: Representatives of grant applicants and National Service programs were present. Each took the opportunity to give an overview of their current work. 

Convene: Chair Branham called the meeting to order at 10:15 AM. After Commissioner introductions, an additional written public comment from Window Dressers was circulated.  

Chair Branham recognized two Commission members. Julia Fiori recently learned she has been admitted to Bowdoin College under the early decision program. Nicole Pellenz has resigned from the Commission due to work responsibilities. She was presented a token of appreciation for her contributions to the Commission including service as the chair-elect for the past year. 

Two Commissioners, Barrett and Phelps, submitted correct responses to the Commissioner Quiz. The most recent resignations left both seats for the required expert in the needs of disadvantaged youth empty. The chair noted the quiz was timed to reinforce the request that Commissioners submit the contact information for potential candidates to officers during or after today’s meeting.  

The final update for the Strategic Plan work was distributed. Task forces and commissioners can use this as the guide for 2020. Board members reviewed progress and conditions as part of the September retreat. In October, the proposed/compiled edits to tasks and timeline were considered and this is the final document.  

Chair Branham introduced the video of past Commission chair reflections. This was compiled over the summer and shown at the October 2019 anniversary celebration. Because all Commission members were not able to attend, it seemed now was the best time to share it. Speaking in the video were Dan Reardon (first chair), Mark Hews, Tom Broussard, Susanne Sandusky, Everett Flannery, Peter Taylor, Paula Gagnon, Carol Anne Dube, Ron Holmes, Mary-Anne LaMarre, and John Portela.  

Agenda Approval. No additions or changes to the agenda were offered. MOVED by L’Italien to approve the agenda as published. Second by Pellenz. Vote on the motion: In favor – unanimous. No abstentions. Motion approved.  

The Consent Agenda included approval of board minutes for November 1 and reports from both the Executive Committee (December 3) and Communications Task Force (November 13). 

Business reports:  
Grant Selection and Performance Task Force. Barrett presented on behalf of the task force members. Actions today entail AmeriCorps new proposals, continuations of existing grantees, and Volunteer Generation Fund new awards.

AMERICORPS CONTINUATIONS.  
Healthy Acadia is applying for year three funding (the final year in the grant cycle). 

The task force recommends reducing the number of minimum time positions from requested 12 to 9 based on enrollment/retention performance. This results in a recommended $9120 reduction (0.636 MSY) in funding request from $283,768 to $274,648. It should be noted the program underspent the grant funds by $102,478 in the year that ended August 2018. Performance measure targets should be revisited after the initial report for year 2 and adjusted to reflect what is actually possible given the nature of this service.

A condition of the recommendation for funding is the program must submit for review its plan to increase retention to 85% from current 45% and a recruitment plan that will result in a significantly improved enrollment rate (last year 59.5%). The task force also would like to hear from senior management how it plans to stabilize program staffing (2 directors in 12 months), ensure financial is timely, and what administrative support is available in the agency to manage program records in a timely manner. Data in reports that has been flagged by staff as questionable needs to be verified by program. 

Moved by Barrett that the Healthy Acadia AmeriCorps program be submitted to the Corporation for National and Community Service with a recommendation it be funded at not more than$274,648 Federal Share, to be matched by at least $343,347 in local funds, supporting 19.9 member service years distributed over 30 slots. The proposed cost per member service year is $14,339. Second by Portela. 

During discussion it was asked if the retention change from 40% to 85% was too great an expectation. The 85% rate is a federal requirement. Staff noted the program is struggling with member support which is a critical element in retention of volunteers. Another question was posed to Healthy Acadia staff among public members observing. They were asked if there are issues with staff retention or just the volunteer coaches. The agency acknowledged there is staff turnover, too. A follow-up question asked at what point volunteer coaches were leaving. The agency replied that coaches were ending service for a number of reasons including changes in life situation and a better understanding of the role which was not their strength. The responder noted the program was new and the agency was learning what was needed to make coaches successful so there are lots of issues involved in retention.

Commission staff noted the agency will need to recompete at the federal level in Fall 2020. If retention does not meet the federal standard it is not likely to be successful in getting another 3-year award.

Branham called the question. Vote on the motion: In favor – 10. Opposed – 0 [zero]. Abstention – 1 (Burns). Motion approved.

Learning Works is applying for year 2 of the current 3-year award.

The task force recommends approving submission of continuation proposal to the Corporation for National and Community Service with the recommendation the requested funds and AmeriCorps positions be awarded. Submission contingent on the applicant correction of minor errors in the Executive Summary and agreement on performance measure targets which were not met in the first year. The task force also noted the program needs to make its affiliation with AmeriCorps more evident in Portland. 

Moved by Barrett that the LearningWorks AmeriCorps program be submitted to the Corporation for National and Community Service with a recommendation it be funded at the requested level of not more than $283,005 Federal Share, to be matched by at least $392,792 in local funds, supporting 19.93 member service years distributed over 52 slots. The proposed cost per member service year is $14,200. Second by Portela. In discussion, Fiori indicated she is recusing herself from discussion and vote because her brother is serving in the program. 

Vote on the motion: In favor – 9; Opposed – 0; Abstain – 2 (Fiori, Burns) 

Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (Maine Conservation Corps) is applying for year 3 of their 3-year award. It was noted that their award falls into the fixed amount category which means the program does not submit a budget and reimbursement is based on enrollment and retention rather than expenditures. 

The task force recommends approving submission of continuation proposal to the Corporation for National and Community Service with the recommendation the requested funds and AmeriCorps positions be awarded. Maine Conservation Corps is urged to strengthen their argument for increasing funding and cost per member in the third year. It was noted the program has committed to better measuring and reporting of the efforts of environmental stewards. It has historically focused solely on the field teams and their trail work. 

Moved by Barrett that the Maine Conservation Corps AmeriCorps program be submitted to the Corporation for National and Community Service with a recommendation it be funded at the requested level of not more than $760,969 Federal Share supporting 49.16 member service years distributed over 116 slots. The proposed cost per member service year is $15,479. Second by Portela. There was no discussion. 

Vote on the motion: In favor – 11; Opposed – 0; Abstain – 0. Motion approved. 

NEW AMERICORPS COMPETITION  
Barrett reported there was one applicant, University of Southern Maine/Maine Campus Compact, to the AmeriCorps State Competitive request for proposals. After the peer reviewers assessed the submission they recommended it not be considered further due to the poor quality and very low score. The task force recommends the applicant develop a more complete proposal and submit to the spring 2020 formula competition.   

NEW RURAL AMERICORPS COMPETITION  
This grant award targets organizations with no AmeriCorps grant history that need 2-5 people to help address an issue. The hope is they will start small, get the systems in place to support a larger program, and apply for a standard grant in the future. 

There was one applicant under the competition: the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville. The task force recommends funding the proposal with condition that corrections are made to the budget, the narrative is clarified regarding the supervisor of AmeriCorps members, performance measures are clarified, and the other items referenced in the Task Force Report section “Conditions/Corrections” are resolved before the application is submitted. Grant award of CNCS funds to be no more than $30,384 with a match of at least $13,022.

Moved by Barrett that the Alfond Youth Center AmeriCorps proposal be awarded a 3-year grant with the first year of funding set at $30,384 Federal Share, to be matched by at least $13,022 in local funds, supporting 2 member service years distributed over 2 slots. The proposed cost per member service year is $15,192. Second by Portela. There was no discussion.

Vote on the motion: In favor – 10; Opposed – 0; Abstain – 1 (Burns) 

VOLUNTEER GENERATION FUND CONTINUATIONS.  
Three grantees from the first round decided to apply for continuation funding. The grants support increased volunteer recruitment and retention in community programming that is not supported by National Service. The Commission competed for the funds and, along with 20 other state commissions, received an award to make subgrants like these and lead organizations through the Service Enterprise program. All VGF grantees must undertake Service Enterprise. At the same time, organizations that are not grantees participate using support from the portion of the grant not designated for subgrants. The task force recommends the continuation applications from three organizations be approved. 

Barrett moved that

  • the Southern Maine Agency on Aging be funded in the amount of $ 37,500, to be matched by no less than $ 45,870 in local funds in order to operate a Volunteer Program addressing Aging in Place and completing Service Enterprise Certification.
  • the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program be funded in the amount of $ 37,500, to be matched by no less than $ 67,361 in local funds in order to operate a Volunteer Program addressing Food Security & Supports.
  • the The WindowDressers, Inc be funded in the amount of $ $35,399, to be matched by no less than $ 51,757 in local funds in order to operate a Volunteer Program addressing Aging in Place and completing participation in Service Enterprise Training.

Second by Portela. 

During discussion Commission staff was asked who established the ratio of funding awarded to match funding and new volunteer engagement. The targets were set by the Commission in its application for the federal funds. In response to another question, it was confirmed that Eastern Area Agency on Aging and United Way of Eastern Maine did not submit continuation applications. All the applicants requesting continuations are recommended for funding. 

Vote on the motion: In favor – 11; Opposed – 0; Abstain – 0. Motion passed. 

NEW VOLUNTEER GENERATION FUND GRANTS  
One applicant, the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville, submitted before the request for proposal deadline. It was noted that the AmeriCorps award is focused on mentoring youth in afterschool programs and this proposal focuses on other volunteer activities in the organization. 

Moved by Barrett that the The Alfond Youth Center be funded in the amount of $ 37,500, to be matched by no less than $ 95,082 in local funds, in order to operate a Volunteer Program addressing the Aging in Place, Food Security & Supports, and Transportation Services focus areas and complete Service Enterprise training. The award is conditioned on correction of minor errors in the budget. Second by Portela. 

Vote on the motion: In favor – 10; Opposed – 0; Abstain – 1 (Burns). Motion approved. 

There is a second award from Catholic Charities Maine to consider. The applicant attempted to submit on time but was thwarted by the snow storm that closed not only their office but state offices on the due date. The proposal was submitted in full the next day. While state procurement determined they could have met the midnight deadline because all proposals are submitted electronically to the state now, there is a circumstance that permits consideration of the proposal. 

With only one official applicant who was funded at the full level of request, there are unallocated funds for that work and the Commission can consider the application. It was evaluated and meets the criteria for funding. There are no issues with the manner of the award based on consultation with state procurement. A question was asked about the scope of work. It will be statewide, not focused on a single aspect of their operation. 

Moved by Barrett that the Catholic Charities be funded in the amount of $ 37,500, to be matched by no less than $ 95,082 in local funds, under a waiver of competitive bidding, in order to operate a Volunteer Program addressing the Aging in Place, Food Security & Supports, and Transportation Services focus areas and also completing participation in Service Enterprise Training. Second by Tilton-Flood. 

Vote on the motion: In favor – 10; Opposed – 0; Abstain – 1 (Burns). Motion approved. 

PEER REVIEWER RECOGNITION
The Commission relies on external peer reviewers to take the first close look and scoring of AmeriCorps proposals. It is a significant time commitment that provides valuable information to the Grant Selection Task Force. The task force asks the full Commission to recognize the following volunteer reviewers:

  • for AmeriCorps State Competitive
    • Ron Holmes, Maine Volunteer Foundation
    • Joanna Martel, Martel Learning Group
    • Nate Hinchey, Hinchey Consulting
  • For Maine Rural AmeriCorps Grants
    • Michael Moran, Council on International Education Exchange/AmeriCorps Alum
    • Madelyn Hennessey, Town of West Bath + Morris Farm Board of Directors

Moved by Barrett to have the Executive Director convey the deep appreciation to the five named peer reviewers for contributing their time and talent to selection of Maine AmeriCorps grantees. Second by Portela. No discussion. Vote on the motion: In favor – unanimous. Motion passes. 

Task Force chair Barrett also expressed appreciation to the Commissioners who helped with task force review steps: on VGF – Matt L’Italien, Jessica Nixon, Luke Shorty; on AmeriCorps – Jonathan Barczyk and Jenni Tilton-Flood. Commission Chair Branham added her thanks to Ed for his leadership and work. 

Communications Task Force.  Tilton-Flood reported on December meeting events. (November minutes were posted.) The task force is considering initiation of legislation that could help make Maine attractive to potential AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Alums who have served here. Everything is still exploratory but they will need to brief the full Commission when the proposal is final. 

A second issue in the task force is understanding the acceptable formats for presenting the logo. The stylized flag and tree icon is the logo with the words moving to fit the use. The round version seen on Commission lapel pins is getting the most frequent use.

The web update project is starting to move. Bryan met with representatives of the state’s sole vendor, InforME, for the government site. They committed to providing a quote on the redesign and migration by late winter. Now is the time for Commissioners to provide their suggestions on functions so the cost can be complete. 

National Public Policy issues.  Crofton reported the big news this week is passage of the 2020 budget appropriation that included CNCS. The bill covered eight appropriation bills and is the final version. Senate action was yesterday (December 19). Last evening, ASC distributed the funding chart for national service. It was among the handouts for Commissioners this morning. AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA, and NCCC had some growth. Senior Corps saw the greatest overall gain. VGF increased by one million dollars so more states should be able to participate.  

CNCS Update.  Ostberg reported as the new CNCS representative to the Commission.  She reviewed progress on implementation of the CNCS reorganization plan. The regional office serving ME, MA, NH, VT, RI, CT and NY is now open in Concord NH. The staff will handle AmeriCorps, VISTA, and Senior Corps grants. It was noted that Maryalice was among the full contingent of Commission representatives present for the office opening. One of the Commissioners asked Ostberg about her background which she gave. Most recently she spent 11 years as the CNCS state director in Connecticut. After taking this job, she relocated to New Hampshire and works out of Concord. In response to another question, she explained the entire team covers seven states but works from a single location. 

Financial Oversight.  Burns reported that some members of the task force were able to meet earlier in the month. He noted that Pete Doak is sidelined by medical issues. There are some changes in how Commission financial matters are being handled at the state. The central accounting office is only handling payables, receivables, deposits, and payroll. Compiling monthly reports for Commission staff use will now be done by the financial analyst for the Dept of Education. It was noted that match for the Commission Support Grant did not meet predications this year, mostly due to events that did not meet goals. The match will have to be made up in year 2 of the grant while, at the same time, generating the full required amount for the second year. The last issue for the report is a redesign of the graphic provided the Commission. Some people like the visual while others want numbers so the new version will attempt to meet both preferences.   

Planning and Future Initiatives  
Commission Communications. At both the Commission retreat and subsequent meeting, there emerged a need to review the two internet communication sites used by the Commission. This was scheduled for this meeting. Crofton proceeded to guide Commissioners through the sites.   

Staff Reports. The Foundation Volunteer Development Associate is unable to attend today. The update will have to be held over for another meeting. 

Crofton gave an overview of major projects to be accomplished January-June 2020. There will be another round of AmeriCorps grant competitions. With the premature closing of several grants, nearly half the state formula allocation is not tied up in awards. The closings were necessary but did prompt staff to engage a consultant to assess the reasons and discover if there were conditions that could have been predicted. The consultant recently completed a capacity assessment of grantees for a federal agency that, like the Commission, funds organizations of all sizes, ages, and locations. The Maine assessment will make recommendations for the pre-award assessment process as well as post-award technical assistance and training process for new grantees. The work will be completed by June. 

Other major projects (aside from those already evident in task force reports or event lists) are Service Enterprise cohorts; assessment of the Commission monitoring approach which may be overkill for grant sizes; and completion of Maine Service Fellows development. A commissioner asked what can be done to make the application and operation of AmeriCorps less counterintuitive. The response indicated that information should emerge from the assessment of what went wrong with the grants returned by agencies or closed out.   

There being no other business for the day, Portela moved for adjournment. Second by L’Italien. AJOURNED 12:11.