Rural Leaders Launch Service Year Initiative at Service Year Alliance’s Community ChangeMaker Summit

Dreama Gentry (right) and Adam Strong spoke about how service plays a role in rural communities at a briefing in Washington, D.C.

Service Year Alliance, in partnership with Partners for Education at Berea College, announced the recommendations of a Rural Policy Advisory Council at a briefing held in the Capitol Hill Visitors Center on September 25.  The white paper with the Council’s recommendations is now available here.

The policy briefing was held in conjunction with the first-ever Community ChangeMaker Summit at which mayors, local leaders, service year programs, and Service Year Impact Communities gathered in Washington, DC at the National League of Cities. Participants from 38 communities across the country shared insights and strategized ways to utilize service years as a powerful, multi-faceted community development tool to solve local needs like education inequity, workforce development, housing, and more.

Dreama Gentry, the executive director of Partners for Education at Berea College, was joined at the briefing by two members of the advisory council, Darryl Lester, director of Service Year NC, Institute of Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University, and Adam Strong, a Research Impact Fellow at CIRCLE, a Washington, D.C., based organization focused on  building relationships that deepen and strengthen the connection of research to practice. Taimarie Adams, director of government relations at Service Year Alliance, moderated the event.

When asked what role service can play in improving educational opportunities in rural places, Gentry noted that her organization has been successful in recruiting community members to serve as “caring adults” in schools. “It’s not that there’s a lack of aspirations, it’s a lack of hope that there is a ladder out of poverty that allows people to stay in the place they love,” said Gentry. Those “caring adults” provide an essential set of supports for young people who lack academic supports and role models.

Lester noted that service years can be a strategy for putting young people on track toward greater economic advancement within their community. “We are always thinking about how to keep young people and a service can be an on-ramp to that first good paying job,” he said.

National service offers a powerful strategy to enable rural areas to enlist local people in solving local challenges in ways that build their skills and increases their commitment to the community. However, elements of existing national service policy limit its availability as a strategy for many rural communities. As public and policymaker support for national service at scale rises, making increased investment increasingly likely, these barriers must be addressed to ensure equitable participation by rural communities.

Jesse Colvin, CEO of Service Year Alliance, said, “Service years are a powerful mechanism for workforce development and addressing local needs, and this summit will lay the groundwork for scaling service years so that every city, state, region, and town can utilize this essential community development tool.”

A growing body of evidence demonstrates the powerful impact service can have in rural communities. For example, in Appalachian Kentucky, AmeriCorps is providing the people power to improve education outcomes as part of a collective impact strategy while building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the region. In rural New Hampshire, the Community Resource Corps AmeriCorps project helps individuals affected by substance use and behavioral health disorders identify barriers in their daily lives and helps connect them to community resources they need.

National programs can also provide expertise, brand, and infrastructure to rural areas. For example, as part of the national Conservation Legacy network, Arizona Conservation Corps’ Veterans Fire Corps program provides training and on-the-job experience for post 9-11 era veterans interested in entering into careers and gaining experience in natural resource management and wildland fire. Similarly, the national LISC AmeriCorps program includes rural community placements in the Mississippi Delta, where AmeriCorps members serve with local agencies dedicated to increasing incomes and employment, reducing housing cost burdens, and engaging residents to take on community economic challenges.

For a firsthand account of the impact a service year experience please watch Tyler Wells, a former AmeriCorps member and current third year pharmacy student, tell his story of renewed opportunity.

About Service Year Alliance

Service Year Alliance is working to make a year of paid, full-time service —a service year —a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans. A service year before, during, or after college gives young people the chance to transform their lives, make an impact in their community, and become the active citizens and leaders our nation needs. Expanding service years has the power to revitalize cities, uplift and educate children at risk, and empower communities struggling with poverty. Learn more at ServiceYearAlliance.org.