February, March and April were turbulent months in Fulton County with the heavy downpours and floods. Yet, there was a group that came and helped with some relief efforts here during that time. They are known as AmeriCorps and they help people not only in bad times, but in good times as well.
According to Albert Schneider, of the Arkansas Service Commission, there were several teams from out of state that specialized in disaster response and responded when the floods hit the area. Schneider said these people also helped at the Gulf Coast with relief efforts from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Though Arkansas has an AmeriCorps office in Little Rock, the state AmeriCorps program does not have a specialized team for disasters. "We would love to have one," Schneider said. He said there is, however, an environmental program through AmeriCorps that is working on getting a disaster response program.
Even though AmeriCorps helps out in times of trouble, they also help out in the community. There are AmeriCorps projects across the nation that help with schools, home care, environment and public safety. Fulton County has two of these projects in action. One is the Arkansas Future Teachers Initiative and the other is the Foster Grandparenting program.
According to AmeriCorps' Web site, www.americorps.org, former President Bill Clinton swore in the first class of AmeriCorps members in 1993 after he signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, which built upon the first National Service Act signed by President H.W. Bush in 1990. These legislations combined a large range of community service programs under one organization. AmeriCorps incorporated two existing organizations: VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).
"Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty," Clinton said when he swore in the first AmeriCorps members. "When it is all said and done, it comes down to three simple questions: What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it?"
At the Early Horizons Child Development Center in Salem, Nikki Burns supervises two volunteers with the Arkansas Future Teachers Initiative. Burns said the volunteers tutor at-risk children who might have a bit more difficulty in things like holding a pencil properly, motor skills and tracing their name on a sheet of paper than most other children. Burns said the goal of these tutors is to prepare children to enter kindergarten when the time comes.
"What AmeriCorps members (in our area) are doing, they are promoting the program to recruit college students to tutor at-risk students in our schools," Burns said. This is Burns' second year working with AmeriCorps' Arkansas Future Teachers Initiative.
Burns said the volunteers evaluate the children three times based on the KRIC, the Kindergarten Readiness Indicator's Checklist, to make sure the children are ready to enter kindergarten. Burns also said they evaluate the children on a daily basis to rate the children on how well they are doing.
According to Burns, the volunteers must work at least 900 service hours to qualify for education awards to help them out with college expenses. After two years or less and after completing 900 hours of service, a volunteer is eligible for an award of $2,362.50. If a volunteer works full-time for a year, he or she is eligible for a $4,725 award. The members also receive compensation for housing from AmeriCorps Burns said.
"It's a very beneficial program, not only for the children but also for the people who help the kids," Burns said. "Just from working here in the ABC, being a part of it, tutoring these kids, they get a little bit of insight about themselves, how they're going to be a good teacher and they get to use that money and go on and get their degree and find a job. I think it's a really good program."
There are also some special people at the Viola Elementary who wear little red vests and tutor students who need help in subjects like math and reading. These people are the Foster Grandparents.
The Foster Grandparenting program is a part of the Senior Corps division of AmeriCorps. Most of the time, the volunteers in this group are retired but still have a need to serve the community in some way.
"We have a lot of kids with needs and disabilities," Helena Olsen, a Foster Grandparent said in the Sept. 4 issue of The News. "(Being a Granny) is rewarding because you feel like you're contributing to these youngsters. Sometimes they don't get help at home. They don't get a hug and what they need."
AmeriCorps does a lot for small-town neighborhoods and big-town neighborhoods, alike, from tutoring children and helping out in the community to saving lives in floods and hurricanes. "It's good that somebody is doing something for our country," Burns said.