AmeriCorps

MANKATO — AmeriCorps is on the lookout for more service-minded individuals to work on issues ranging from homelessness to hunger to education this summer in Mankato.

The public service program started the Emergency Response Initiative, or ERI, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. About 10 members served in Mankato last year out of 300 or so across the state.

The number is rising to 860 statewide this summer, with AmeriCorps recruiting 17 people to work in Mankato between June 7 and Aug. 14.

They’ll step into roles at Kato Public Charter School, Mankato Youth Place, Wooden Spoon, ECHO Food Shelf, Mankato Area Public Schools’ community education and recreation department, and the summer ACES child care program.

The 10-week program is a shorter service term by AmeriCorps standards, said Senior Manager Katelyn Dokken, which makes it a good opportunity for new high school graduates, college students or older residents. They’ll come in during a time when help is especially needed both in Mankato and at organizations around the state.

“One of the main indirect effects of the pandemic is volunteer capacity went way down,” Dokken said. “This is another way we can get folks in to help with those (hunger, homelessness and education) issue areas.”

Finding volunteers and workers has been more difficult for many nonprofits during the pandemic. Some organizations rely on college students for help, and the shift to distance or hybrid learning models meant more students could stay home for classes outside Mankato.

Mankato Youth Place experienced this challenge, said Director Erin Simmons. AmeriCorps gives the nonprofit another way to find service-minded workers.

“It draws people who are looking to make a difference,” she said.

The nonprofit, which offers day and after-school programming for youth in Mankato, had workers come in last year to help with its summer academic program. The vistas, standing for volunteers in service to America, read more than 460 books to students.

This summer Mankato Youth Place is in line to receive four AmeriCorps members along with two workers through Literacy Minnesota for academic programming. In addition, Mankato Youth Place partnered with Wooden Spoon to seek two more AmeriCorps members for work related to the South Central Minnesota Food Recovery Project.

The project connects excess food from local restaurants and businesses to area nonprofits. Simmons called the project, started by Wooden Spoon owner Natasha Frost, a huge asset to Mankato Youth Place.

The food can end up feeding youth at the nonprofit, as well as their families when the children bring meals home.

AmeriCorps members, Simmons said, will be tasked with looking into how to improve the system so food gets to the right people in the most efficient ways. The system now alerts nonprofits when food becomes available, and securing it is often a quick and unpredictable turnaround.

“They’ll look at how this rescue project is moving food in, and detecting patterns that will allow us to be more efficient and maybe even plan for it instead,” Simmons said.

She’s hopeful AmeriCorps will be able to recruit enough members this summer.

“We’re excited,” she said. “It’s a great asset to our community.”

Interested applicants are asked to apply at www.serveminnesota.org/emergency-response-member by May 19. The 17 chosen workers will receive a modest living stipend for about 35 hours of work per week along with a scholarship and other benefits.

The program isn’t only open to young adults. Older adults are encouraged to apply as well, with the opportunity to pass on a scholarship to a student they know.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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