Over the past two years, AmeriCorps members acted quickly and creatively to address gaps in services created by the COVID-19 pandemic. They supported vaccination efforts, collected and distributed food, tutored and mentored students to help diminish the impacts of COVID-driven instructional loss, conducted wellness checks for homebound individuals, and more.
Now as the country begins to recover, albeit with the understanding that COVID may never leave us completely, AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have joined forces to launch Public Health AmeriCorps. Public Health AmeriCorps will help meet the health needs of local communities by providing much-needed surge capacity for state and local public health agencies and support the recruitment, training, and development of the next generation of public health leaders. The new partnership will leverage the expertise of both federal agencies, capitalizing on AmeriCorps’ experience managing some of the most prominent public service and workforce development programs in the nation while benefitting from CDC’s technical expertise as the country’s public health agency.
Announcing the historic partnership earlier this month, Michael D. Smith, AmeriCorps CEO, said: “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AmeriCorps has established aid networks, supported vaccination efforts and provided food and resources to those in need. Public Health AmeriCorps is a first of its kind response to the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social determinants of health. These new AmeriCorps members will add capacity to strained public health systems and build a career pathway for future public health leaders from underserved communities.”
The new Corps is supported by a five-year, $400 million investment from the American Rescue Plan and will build on the expertise, best practices, and lessons learned from existing AmeriCorps and other public health programs. Earlier this month, AmeriCorps and the CDC announced the first round of 80 grants to state and local organizations, totaling more than $60 million. The funding will allow Public Health AmeriCorps programs to recruit nearly 3,000 AmeriCorps members who will serve communities by providing health education, supporting health-related research, assisting with testing and vaccination efforts – while simultaneously developing skills to create a new generation of public health workers. An overarching goal is to recruit AmeriCorps members who reflect the communities in which they serve.
Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest is one of the grant recipients. Their new funding will help support 20 JV AmeriCorps members annually serving in a variety of public health positions. The AmeriCorps members will accompany individuals with barriers to accessing health care, by conducting outreach, navigating service options, and offering companionship in 20 nonprofit, health care consortium sites in rural and urban economically challenged communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. At the end of the first program year, the Public Health AmeriCorps members will be responsible for the improved access to medical care for 3,500 marginalized individuals. In addition, the AmeriCorps members will leverage 500 volunteers who will be engaged in health care accompaniment. Their goal is that after their first year of service, ten AmeriCorps members will pursue future engagement in the public health sector. You can learn more about their program, here.
Another grant recipient is Cherry Street Services, the largest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Michigan, whose mission is to improve the health and wellness of individuals by providing comprehensive health care while encouraging access by those who are underserved. Their 20 Public Health AmeriCorps members will help them address health issues in their communities which were exacerbated by the pandemic, including: increasing access to preventative cancer screening rates, providing Medicaid enrollment assistance to clients and Spanish-English health care interpretation, and identifying and bridging gaps in care through patient outreach. Members will receive Community Health Worker training and personal and professional development to help them prepare for life after AmeriCorps service.
Goodwill Northern New England will place 37 AmeriCorps members in rural and inner-city health centers across Maine and New Hampshire to improve access to healthcare for the most underserved populations. Working with their host sites, the Goodwill AmeriCorps members will develop and carry out localized public health interventions to improve access to care, substance abuse treatment, care for veterans, older adult fall prevention, and other health education and mental health initiatives.
The valuable career skills and experience, from career training to occupational skills to network building, that AmeriCorps members receive cannot be underestimated. It has been a proven pathway that helps young people prepare for future jobs, particularly for populations hardest hit by the pandemic. To this end, according to a survey of AmeriCorps alumni, eight out of ten respondents felt that AmeriCorps advanced and benefited their career path.
The Public Health AmeriCorps builds on AmeriCorps’ continued investment in our COVID-19 recovery efforts. For the past two years, thousands of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors members across the country have adapted to meet the changing needs caused by COVID. These members have provided vital support, community response, and recovery efforts to more than 11 million Americans, including 2.3 million people at vaccination sites.
The full list of the first-year Public Health AmeriCorps grants, including contact information for those interested in serving, is available here.