Operation UNITE will expand its UNITE Service Corps initiative to 62 AmeriCorps members during the 2023-24 school year thanks to a nearly $1 million grant announced Thursday, May 18.

“Team Kentucky is building a better Kentucky with the support of AmeriCorps and 20 sponsor organizations, such as nonprofits and education agencies,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. “We thank them for their support and hard work as they help us improve the lives of our Kentucky families and communities.”

“AmeriCorps members serving with Operation UNITE serve a dual-purpose role: Provide math tutoring and drug prevention education to elementary school students,” said Crystal Smallwood, Director of the UNITE Service Corps. “Lessons introduced through the ‘Too Good For Drugs’ curricula help students develop social and emotional skills for making healthy choices, build positive friendships, communicate effectively, and resist peer pressure and influence.”

This fall term will mark the 16th year of the UNITE Service Corps program.

Next school year, UNITE will engage 62 Kentucky AmeriCorps members at elementary schools in 21 counties: Bell, Boyd, Carter, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lawrence, Leslie, Letcher, Lincoln, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Pike, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Whitley, and Wolfe.

“Ensuring youth have strong, fact-based drug prevention and avoidance skills is essential if we want them to stay substance free,” said Nancy Hale, President & CEO of Operation UNITE.  “The reach of AmeriCorps members with the UNITE Service Corps extends deep into our service region.  They become actively engaged within their schools by sponsoring anti-drug UNITE Clubs, joining their UNITE Community Coalition, and recruiting adult volunteers. AmeriCorps members foster relationships that broaden their impact well beyond the classroom.  They are helping to change the culture across southern and eastern Kentucky.”

In all, 21 operational programs across Kentucky will receive $14.7 million in AmeriCorps federal grants, combined with $5.8 million in private and public matching funds to provide tutoring, teaching, and other educational services for students in all grade levels through post-secondary education, as well as provide help with housing, clothing, and food to Kentuckians in need.

The AmeriCorps federal agency will make available nearly $4.8 million in education awards for program participants. After completing a full term of service, AmeriCorps members are eligible for $6,895 for college, postsecondary education, or to pay back student loans.

Through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Serve Kentucky currently administers 23 AmeriCorps program grants with more than $14 million in federal funds, along with supporting other statewide Community service programs.

Cabinet Secretary Eric Friedlander praised AmeriCorps for its support. Program funding, he noted, impacts Kentucky’s quest to build more resilient communities.

“As Team Kentucky moves forward with building a better commonwealth following the pandemic, natural disasters, and other impacts, the programs supported will play a significant role in making Kentuckians and the places they live more resilient and ready for a brighter future,” Friedlander said.

AmeriCorps funding also helps provide services to aging Kentuckians, disaster relief, environmental education, support for public health, and food support services, said Joe Bringardner, Executive Director of Serve Kentucky. “AmeriCorps members use their talents, their vision, and their boundless energy to establish immediate and long-lasting change.”