Operation UNITE has been awarded funding to place 54 Serve Kentucky AmeriCorps members in elementary schools across southern and eastern Kentucky during the 2018-19 school year.
Through a $658,800 grant from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), AmeriCorps members serving with UNITE will provide math tutoring, drug prevention and healthy living education to students in 16 counties – Carter, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Laurel, Leslie, Letcher, Lincoln, Magoffin, Morgan, Owsley, Pike, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Wayne and Wolfe.
Announcement of the grant was made August 9 by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). The state will receive nearly $6.7 in AmeriCorps federal funding for 20 programs with more than 900 total members.
AmeriCorps is a national service program administered by Serve Kentucky (formerly known as the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service), in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. AmeriCorps grants are awarded to eligible organizations proposing to engage AmeriCorps members in evidence-based or evidence-informed interventions to strengthen communities.
UNITE utilizes the “Too Good for Drugs” program, which has been found to be effective in decreasing intention to use alcohol or drugs and increase negative attitudes about using alcohol and drugs, said Melinda Kincer, UNITE program director for the Serve Kentucky AmeriCorps.
Kincer added that “Take 10” integrates movement with core curriculum concepts and includes nutrition education and physical activity lessons.
Success of the UNITE AmeriCorps initiative is determined through pre- and post-test surveys evaluated by the University of Kentucky. During the 2016-17 school year, the last year for which data is available:
- 2,564 students were tutored in mathematics. Math test scores for these students showed an average growth of 56.5% in math knowledge.
- 3,038 students were taught the science-based “Too Good For Drugs” and “Healthy Futures/Take 10!” wellness curricula. Test scores for these students showed an average growth of 51.3% in drug education and healthy decision-making knowledge.
In addition, AmeriCorps members also serve as sponsors for anti-drug UNITE Clubs, participate in their local UNITE Community Coalitions, recruit volunteers for school-based prevention programs, and are state-certified in disaster and emergency response, noted UNITE President/CEO Nancy Hale.
“AmeriCorps members are an invaluable resource for the schools and communities they serve,” she stated. “They are making a difference in the lives of many hundreds of youth throughout our region.”
UNITE first began working with the Kentucky AmeriCorps program in May 2006 through a partnership with Eastern Kentucky University. UNITE launched its own “UNITE Service Corps” initiative during the 2008-09 school year with 10 AmeriCorps members.
The UNITE initiative quickly expanded, and was heralded “as a model to other rural counties across the country” in October 2012.
“This (AmeriCorps) funding will help address critical issues across the commonwealth – like teaching and tutoring students, combatting homelessness, providing drug resistance education, protecting environmental resources, serving veterans and military families, empowering victims of domestic violence, and assisting low-income senior citizens,” said CHFS Secretary Adam M. Meier. “Service is a wonderful way to build our workforce and our community resources.”
Meier added that including additional local match funding and educational grants, AmeriCorps programs will result in a $21 million investment in Kentucky.
“Kentucky AmeriCorps is making an enormous impact, both now and for the future of our commonwealth,” Meier said. “I am proud that this funding is strengthening both individuals and communities.”
Serve Kentucky Executive Director Joe Bringardner said he is proud of Kentucky programs’ showing among the national grant awardees.
“These programs have distinct goals to help educate youth, provide comfort to seniors, and rebuild families’ lives by building homes,” Bringardner said. “Our AmeriCorps members use their talents, their vision, and their boundless energy to establish immediate and long-lasting change in Kentucky.”
In addition to the grant funding, CNCS will make available $3.7 million in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards for the AmeriCorps members funded by these grants to pay for college, postsecondary education institutions, or to pay back student loans.
From an economic standpoint, AmeriCorps is a good investment in workforce training, spurring personal and professional growth. Eight out of 10 alumni say AmeriCorps helped them get a job, with 42 percent finding employment due to an AmeriCorps connection.
AmeriCorps members help communities tackle pressing problems while mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve. Recent studies also show a strong connection between volunteering and employment, particularly in rural areas, where volunteers are 57 percent more likely to find employment.