AmeriCorps, a federal program that provides grants to organizations across the country to conduct programming, has returned to Albion College’s campus.
Lindsey Knowlden, director of national services initiatives, runs AmeriCorps programs at Albion. She has been with the college since Feb. 2021 and as an AmeriCorps alumni herself, the position is a natural fit for her. Her position at the college and experience in AmeriCorps has given her insight on the program and it’s transformational opportunities.
There are three major branches of AmeriCorps: VISTA, NCCC and AmeriCorps State and National, which is the type Albion is.
AmeriCorps is a national organization that is fairly new, but not a stranger, to Albion’s campus.
“Our specific goal here at Albion is to increase the capacity of our local organizations to provide services or help them expand their service offerings and to increase the number of students and community members who are engaged in volunteering. The goal is to mobilize volunteers or generate volunteers,” said Knowlden.
AmeriCorps is a way for students to step out of the classroom and apply their knowledge. One of the goals of AmeriCorps is to help students think critically to connect their academics to real world problems. In doing so, AmeriCorps members can use those skills to improve and address those real world problems as well.
“When you sign up to join AmeriCorps, you are signing up to complete a term of service, which is a specific number of hours over a specific period of time, and you are committing to working on a project long term, which is a really great skill for students to gain at this stage in their lives,” said Knowlden.
Professional and personal growth are opportunities AmeriCorps advertises. It claims to be focused on building the student and the student’s skill sets. AmeriCorps can also be an economically beneficial opportunity for students.
“There are some financial benefits for AmeriCorps members,” said Knowlden. “We provide a living allowance and an education award, which is an incredible thing for students. We know college students don’t always have money, and this is a great way to earn some money while making a difference in your community.”
This year, the AmeriCorps program has three groups known as cohorts. The first cohort started on Oct. 2. So far, there are 14 members who have started their service and are putting in between 10-20 hours per week. The members include students from all across campus with various majors and different interests.
There will be two more cohorts this school year. The second cohort will begin on Nov. 20 and the third will start in February.
Diamond Patrick, Chicago sophomore, is a member of the first cohort developing an innovative project with AmeriCorps. Over the next several months, Patrick will be brainstorming, researching and figuring out what programs will best assist the older adult community of Albion. This research will be partnered with the Albion Healthcare Alliance and Carewell services, two nonprofits in the Albion area. Knowlden is looking for students to join this initiative.
“The nonprofits are offering grants to increase innovative adult services, so providing services that are unique to adults and expanding their service opportunities to meet the basic needs of adults to find ways to engage adults in the long term. The student will be applying for a grant and hopefully will receive the grant so that she can start building out a program,” said Knowlden.
In addition to the work with the nonprofits, other AmeriCorps students are utilizing their skills learned in the classroom to assist the community.
“I have a student who is a senior and an English major. She is interested in writing and has those skills. I had a community partner who needs some support with storytelling and communications as well as program handbook development,” said Knowlden. “And so this student will be utilizing her English and communication skills to work with the organization. She will be working with them to develop their handbook and tell their story.”
The Whitehouse Nature Center and AmeriCorps have also established a partnership. Through a new model, students can work their way up through an assistantship and move into AmeriCorps leadership and lead their fellow students in projects.
“This summer we partnered with the Albion [Build] fellows program. There were 17 members who served over the summer and students were doing varying projects,” said Knowlden. “Some of our partners were Playwright Academy, Innovate Albion, Kids and Stuff, Kids at Hope, 4H Creative and Expressive Arts, Community Gardens, The Whitehouse Nature Center.”
“Through the framework of AmeriCorps I am working with one other woman, her name is Caitlyn Robins and we are trying to bring a service dog training and education club to campus. We are building it from the ground up,” said Mackenzie Kell, Trenton Senior.
Kell was inspired to start the service dog training project by an alum and trustee named Judy Harrington, ‘86. Harrington works with I-Can which is its own service dog training program, so both Kell and Harrington thought it would be a great idea to bring the idea to Albion and build it out through AmeriCorps.
“It is a very proud organization. It’s basically like a domestic peace corps. They have a lot of things go through them like the Big Read,” said Kell.
Kell believes her project is important because it brings something to the community. It will provide more services to those in the city that have disabilities.
“You get benefits by joining AmeriCorps. I am looking forward to a scholarship I can use toward school by the end of my term” said Kell. “I am encouraging everyone at Albion to go out and take a look at AmeriCorps and see what they can offer you.”