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AmeriCorps Week Celebrates Young Volunteers

There are more than 1,800 AmeriCorps volunteers in the state of Washington. (George Armstrong/FEMA)
There are more than 1,800 AmeriCorps volunteers in the state of Washington. (George Armstrong/FEMA)
March 7, 2016

SEATTLE - It's national AmeriCorps week, a time when the community service organization founded in 1993 by President Bill Clinton celebrates its volunteers and alumni.

This year, Congress gave the organization's budget a $51 million increase. In the state of Washington, there are more than 1,800 young volunteers, working in the conservation corps, with veterans, and as teachers.

Debbie Schuffenhauer executive director of Serve Washington, the state's branch of AmeriCorps, says the people who participate feel the impact of service in their own lives.

"Through their service they're becoming more engaged in their community," says Schuffenhauer. "We hope they will become long-term engaged citizens in the community and in Washington state."

AmeriCorps partners with local nonprofits for many of its projects.

Some of AmeriCorps' young volunteers work in the program to pay back school debt as part of their loan forgiveness program.

Shelby Vander Molen, who went to college for theater and writing, is in her second year volunteering with the Washington Conservation Corps and says her experience has put her on a new path.

"AmeriCorps kind of changed what I will be doing at least for a chunk of my life, because before I wouldn't have had any of these connections or skills," says Vander Molen. "I grew up on a farm so I'd done a little bit of outdoor work, but I wasn't certified in wilderness medicine or anything like that."

In addition to conservation work, Vander Molen was part of a disaster-relief team that traveled to Missouri to help flood victims last month.

She made her way back home from the Mississippi floodplains this weekend with a wealth of new experiences.

"You have to be resourceful," she says. "You have to be ready for anything, be flexible, and I think the disaster response teams, of all AmeriCorps types of work, are especially ready to be that way just because the nature of disasters."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA