Cuts to federal help agency could hinder local efforts

by Josh Lanier

Luis Samayoa, of Habitat for Humanity, congratulates Robert Brandon II on getting his new Habitat home in Cornelius last year. Habitat for Humanity chapters across the county are facing possible cutbacks to its AmeriCorps volunteers after the U.S. Congress passed a stopgap budget that included cutting the national help agency’s funding.

Budget discussions in Washington, D.C., could have major impacts on several local help agencies if the funding for national service agency AmeriCorps is cut.

The federal stopgap budget, passed in the House of Representatives last week, would cut $61 billion in government spending and would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service and the programs it funds, such as AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA. The nonpartisan organization, which dispatches recruits of all ages to nonprofits, schools and faith-based organizations nationwide, was created in 1993.

Several local agencies receive workers, most between 18 to 25 years old, through the program, including Our Towns Habitat for Humanity and Teach for America.

Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, which serves the North Mecklenburg and Mooresville areas, has three AmeriCorps Staffers and is asking to increase that to five when they begin in September.

“This would be a blow to us,” Terry Laney executive director of Our Towns, said. “But this is also a blow to the AmeriCorps volunteers who are able to learn so much through the program.”

AmeriCorps staffers earn a minimum salary meant to keep them above the poverty level.

Laney, who calls himself a constant optimist, said he believes Our Towns will be able to weather the budget crisis by ramping up community participation efforts and involvement.

“If the AmeriCorps program is cut this year, it will hurt our plans for 2011-2012, which means we will need to adjust and focus on what we have, versus what we don’t have,” Laney said. “Last fiscal year, due to the economy, our budget only called for serving 15 families locally. However, by focusing on our strengths and what we have, we were able to serve 20 families

“We’re only defeated when we accept defeat without changing to a different path.”

Teach for America has by far the most AmeriCorps staffers in the county, with 233 members working in the area. Teach for America enlists young, promising teachers to help low performing students achieve more.

Calls to Teach for America-Charlotte were not immediately returned, and it is unclear how funding cuts would affect efforts by the group.

According to the AmeriCorps’ website, www.nationalservice.gov, about 22,000 AmeriCorps recruits working in North Carolina serving about 105 nonprofits.

Its most recent addition is Senior Corps, which mobilizes residents 55 and older to serve in their communities.

In other Our Towns Habitat For Humanity news

Our Towns Habitat for Humanity will host its annual Collegiate Challenge trips to Lake Norman beginning this weekend.

The nonprofit agency will host 25 students from Ohio Northern University Habitat Campus Chapter from Sunday, Feb. 27, until March 5, and from March 6-12 30 students from Seton Hall University’s Habitat chapter will visit the area. The students will spend their spring breaks planning, organizing, implementing and marketing a fundraiser in the hopes of raising $65,000 to go towards building an affordable home for a local, low-income family.

The students will camp out at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Cornelius.

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