AmeriCorps: Recognizing a Decade of Service with CHP
Ten years, 184 volunteers, 217,882 volunteer hours, and over 3,000 youth served. These are just some of the impressive numbers associated with a dedicated group of men and women who served in CHP’s AmeriCorps Project RISE! (Respect, Involvement, Service and Education) program in Virginia.
From 2004 to 2014, CHP partnered with the AmeriCorps State program in which AmeriCorps volunteers helped CHP’s resident services coordinators at CHP-owned and managed rental communities meet critical needs and improve resident life as part of a larger national AmeriCorps initiative to address the country’s needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.
Although the original CHP/AmeriCorps partnership began with AmeriCorps members working with youth in the broader community and at CHP’s formerly-owned youth residential facility, the growing needs at CHP’s multifamily communities led to the full-time placement of AmeriCorps members at nine of these communities. Each year, CHP’s AmeriCorps members completed between 300 to 1,700 hours of service at their assigned community.
During almost a quarter of a million hours invested in their work with CHP, AmeriCorps members have helped youth residents with homework, service learning projects, summer activities, and more. Members also worked with adult tenants, assisting them with a range of self-empowering skills such as computer training, job hunting, and financial literacy. In addition, AmeriCorps members often helped facilitate community food distributions and coordinated numerous social events such as holiday dinners and neighborhood festivals.
According to Jasmin White, CHP’s former AmeriCorps Program Director and current Resident Services Operations Coordinator, every AmeriCorps member was unique and brought with them a wide variety of life experiences that added depth and diversity to their contributions.
Young residents of Friendship Village Apartments in Virginia Beach still recall with excitement a $16,000 clothing donation that AmeriCorps member Valerie Leybag was able to secure from Nike in 2008, and the multicultural residents of Greenstone on 5th Apartments in Charlottesville, Virginia fondly remember Mondo Mulemaza, an AmeriCorps member and former refugee that spoke five different languages and acted as a translator for many. Meadowview Apartments residents in Pulaski, Virginia began recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day several years ago with the help of an AmeriCorps member Pam Whitesell, and continue to celebrate the day each year with a focus on community service. Cross Creek Apartments residents in Portsmouth, Virginia still look forward to annual holiday caroling that started with AmeriCorps member Tonya Speller in 2006. Several young women residing at Tekoa, CHP’s residential facility for at-risk youth, enjoyed a successful program created by AmeriCorps member Raj Casper in 2004 that allowed them to write a movie, design costumes and make music selections for the film, perform in it, and edit the final product.
Says White, the list of ways AmeriCorps members benefited CHP residents “is long and far-reaching,” but points out that the members themselves also gained much from their time with the organization. In fact, in the 10-year span of the program, 26 AmeriCorps members were hired by CHP after their service years were completed, and 12 former members still remain with the company to this day.
Juanita Hatcher, who served as a member at The Warwick in Newport News, Virginia, said that while she was working with CHP as an AmeriCorps member, she was able to obtain her high school diploma and was provided the opportunity to go to California for professional development training. “I also used the AmeriCorps education awards I received at the end of my service years to earn my degree as an Assistant Substance Abuse Counselor,” added Hatcher. “I am still continuing my education and in 2015, I will have another degree in Human Services. I can’t say enough good things about the AmeriCorps Program, which gave me the motivation I needed to get where I am today.”
Solomon Williams agrees that his experience as an AmeriCorps with CHP was invaluable. “It helped me with my school tuition, but it also allowed me to learn more about the Human Services field and get more hands-on experience. It was an amazing feeling to help resident's complete tasks they thought were impossible to do.”
Like Williams, many other AmeriCorps members were able to narrow down life goals thanks to their year of service. Says Natasha Mitchell, “AmeriCorps helped me to better focus my career goals, and I now know for sure that working with non-profits and at-risk youth is the type of career I see for myself.”
In 2014, the Project RISE program grant came to a close, but its legacy continues to live on in CHP’s current resident services program model. Says White, “Visit any former program site and you’re bound to find the AmeriCorps influence. AmeriCorps member contributions will never be forgotten,” said Jasmin White.