AmeriCorps: Understanding Community Outreach In Our Region

Category:  Community
Friday, October 24th, 2014 at 11:00 AM

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with two representatives for AmeriCorps in the Erie County and Crawford County areas, and gain some insight on exactly what it is the service organization does for our region. 

For nearly the past ten years, the AmeriCorps branch in our area has been a model for similar programs throughout the state. The organization focuses on providing a variety of services to low-income areas in both Erie and Crawford counties, with programs that address both short-term and long-term goals for community revitalization.

Among the 19 project sites spread throughout the Erie area, AmeriCorps workers dedicate their time to everything from youth-focused programs, such as bike repair shops and tutoring programs, to adult centered services concerning home ownership and budgeting, as well as offering support for single parents. 

According to the representatives I spoke with -- Katie Morton and Lauren Schricker -- these projects represent a concerted effort to provide a more holistic approach to community outreach. The core belief of the AmeriCorps program is that positive change in our communities cannot be accomplished through only a few focused projects, but rather a wide array of undertakings that take into consideration the many working components of a community. 

Morton and Schricker are both involved in projects that are primarily concerned with community outreach in East Erie, and both are recent college graduates that recognize the need for this sort of work in our region. Much of AmeriCorps’ workforce is made up of young community members like Morton and Schricker, who work full-time and are required to live off a stipend that represents wages below the poverty level.  

Morton, an Erie native, began her work with AmeriCorps two years ago, and is currently involved with both the Urban Erie Community Development Corporation and the Quality of Life Learning Center subdivisions. 

Morton grew up in Millcreek, and speaks passionately about the new perspective her participation in the program has offered on her city.

“I got to experience working with people from around the world...people from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds,” she explains. “I’ve gotten to immerse myself in a totally different setting than I grew up in.”

Morton further expressed the usefulness of the AmeriCorps program as not only a community service, but as a resource for young people looking to get involved in the nonprofit industry.

“I’ve started a lot of projects that I’ve seen come to fruition,” she adds. “I’ve had the chance to network with business leaders, the county executive, congressmen -- I don’t think I’d have the opportunity to gain that level of experience at a larger nonprofit, or in a bigger city” 

As for Schricker, who relocated to Erie from Pittsburgh following her graduation from Allegheny College, she emphasized the often overlooked challenges presented by the varied demographic of our city.

“Dealing with urban poverty in Erie means taking into account how diverse the populace is,” she says. “We have thousands of refugees in the city living in communities that are built on a wide array of racial and cultural backgrounds, and they come here with virtually nothing.” 

Schricker is primarily involved in with the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network project site, and looks to the importance of AmeriCorps’ adult-focused projects that aim to aid not only refugees struggling to make a new start in our city, but impoverished locals who are too frequently taken advantage of by negligent landlords. Problems of local infrastructure and personal disenfranchisement are inseparable when addressing the broader goal of community improvement. 

What was most evident in my time spent with Morton and Schricker is the sheer level of commitment that AmeriCorps employees show to their projects, and their community. Both women expressed a depth of understanding in regards to the multilayered issues that affect our community, and both sincerely believe in the difference their projects are making. 

As an Erie local myself, I feel it’s crucial that we recognize the change AmeriCorps is trying to make in our region, and take pride in the fact that our program is widely recognized as a model for successful community outreach. As the organization continues to grow in our area, I can only hope that the community will take notice, and that more young people, like Morton and Schricker, might be spurred to take an active role in the revitalization of our city. 

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