The Role of AmeriCorps Programs in Municipal Improvement Projects
As community facilities age, many municipal governments are faced with tough fiscal decisions. These concerns can turn into opportunities for creating jobs and new pathways for youth entering the workforce. Increasingly, community development organizations, faith-based institutions and other non-profits are partnering with branches of AmeriCorps to place young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills while also earning money for education.
The City of Camden is currently facing decades-long extreme urban water infrastructure challenges. As a solution, an innovative and dynamic partnership called the Camden Stormwater Management and Resource Training (SMART) Initiative was created in 2011. This community driven movement is protecting human health, improving conditions for economic development, improving water quality and enhancing the quality of life through the broad use of green and grey infrastructure techniques for stormwater management. Despite ongoing design solutions, a trained labor force was still needed to carry out many of Camden SMART’s projects.
In partnership with Camden, under the National Governor and Mayor’s Initiative, the Center for Family Services launched the PowerCorps Camden program in December 2015, with the intent to improve outcomes for opportunity youth and improve green infrastructure in the city. PowerCorps members are currently providing a local workforce that is committed to improving stormwater management, clean and green vacant lots, improving community space and parks for Camden's youth, and revitalizing public land in the city.
Each trainee receives extensive training in water quality, storm water management, green infrastructure and clean and green initiatives, as well as a living allowance, health insurance and childcare. Upon completion of the six month term of service, members join the PowerCorps alumni and receive transition support in order to assist with postsecondary education, continuing national service and/or securing meaningful work in career related fields.
This model is beginning to be replicated in communities across New Jersey. Funding from the Corporation for National and Community Services AmeriCorps programs help local organizations facilitate the recruitment, training and placing of AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs. Municipal Services Authorities and Recreation Departments are a great way to introduce these initiatives. Because of AmeriCorps NJ, shore communities are able to move forward with critical projects like planting 40,000 American beach-grass plants at Island Beach State Park to protect the shoreline from beach erosion.
AmeriCorps programs can further a municipality’s ability to meet its needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. In Camden, PowerCorps members are playing a key role in maintaining over 53 green infrastructure installations, including 20 rain gardens, 10 city and county parks, 400 vacant lots and 5500 stormwater inlets that comprise the city’s network. It is not hard to imagine the potential of this momentum if it were tapped into by every municipality.