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A small boost for a big program

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– AmeriCorps is a national organization in need of local assistance.
It was granted by the North Liberty City Council last Aug. 14.
The AmeriCorps organization is an umbrella entity that pairs volunteers and other nonprofit organizations throughout America in order to address crucial needs for both individuals and entire communities, including tutoring and mentoring disadvantaged youth, fighting illiteracy, supporting veterans, seniors and the disabled, cleaning and improving public parks and waterways, helping during community disasters, and helping to build affordable housing, for example.
In Johnson County, AmeriCorp volunteers have helped with flood recovery, initiated a health project to combat obesity, built Habitat for Humanity homes, worked with United Way of East Central Iowa, and volunteered with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, among many other service tasks. In North Liberty, you may have even seen AmeriCorps volunteers bussing tables or serving juice at the library’s annual waffle breakfast fundraiser, or setting up and tearing down equipment at the annual Blues & BBQ festival.
The organization found itself in the unfortunate position of having to ask for something, instead of its usual giving.
City Administrator Ryan Heiar told the council AmeriCorps’ Each One Reach One program, which provides mentoring and direct services to youth who are at risk of involvement with– or who are already involved in– the juvenile justice system, as well as mentoring for adult offenders, particularly veterans and families who have suffered abuse and neglect. The purpose is to increase their changes of success in school, work and in their communities.
AmeriCorpos received a national grant for $460,435 to conduct its Each One Reach One program for three years in Linn, Johnson and Tama counties, which would fund an additional 1,056 volunteers to work with more than 500 youth and adults in the three counties. However, Heiar added, AmeriCorps was supposed to have also received $49,000 in matching funds from the Iowa Department of Corrections. AmeriCorps learned in June that the Department of Corrections was not going to contribute, and it was therefore in danger of losing its $460,000 grant.
Therefore, Heiar said, AmeriCorps is seeking the matching funds in chunks from its partners in the Sixth Judicial District, including $19,000 from Johnson County communities.
North Liberty was asked to pony up $4,000 this year.
It wasn’t much of a horse race, yet neither was it a unanimous vote.
Council member Gerry Kuhl said since the Department of Corrections receives millions of dollars in state appropriations funding, he would not support the request.
“I don’t like the idea of the city supplementing state appropriations,” Kuhl said. “I think that’s a bad precedent. I also don’t think it’s good that people feel free to come to us for money (like) it grows on trees. We have our own needs to take care of.”
However, council member Brian Wayson said he could see the return on investment.
“The Department of Corrections seemed positive about the results of the program,” Wayson said. “It seems to be making a big impact on a lot of people’s lives. If you look at it big picture we could spend $4,000 now and keep a few guys out of trouble; we would spend more than that to hire police officers to go and corral somebody else. I would rather spend the money up front and do some good with it.”
Councilor Coleen Chipman supported the proposal, but asked for the council to evaluate the use of the money each year and make sure it was being spent in ways it benefitted the North Liberty community.
“The promise made to us is that our money would be for the Johnson County program,” said Heiar.
The $4,000 funding request, with the stipulation of a yearly evaluation, passed 3-2, with Wayson, Chipman and councilor Chris Hoffman approving the request, Kuhl voting no and Terry Donahue abstaining, stating he had a conflict of interest based on his former employment under the Department of Corrections.
According to AmeriCorps’ Angela Sarrels, AmeriCorps has performed approximately 15,000 hours of service in Johnson County since 2008. Some of the project sponsors include: Hickory Hill Park, Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, Miracles in Motion Therapeutic Center and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.