President Bill Clinton oversaw the creation of AmeriCorps as part of the National and Community Service Trust Act. AmeriCorps members agree to serve full or part-time for at least one year in a variety of roles around the country, from spearheading literacy programs to preserving parklands. In return, they receive training and experience, a small living stipend, and a modest education award at the end of their service term.
In 2009, Minnesota launched GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps-based initiative to help preserve and protect state environmental interests while training a new generation of environmental professionals. Now in its second year, GreenCorps is comprised of 26 full-time AmeriCorps members and five half-time members, up from 22 total members in its initial year.
According to program coordinator Stephanie Grayzeck Souter, service members are assigned to projects in one of four areas: energy conservation and air quality, waste prevention and recycling, “living green” outreach, and green infrastructure. Local governments, schools and non-profit organizations apply to host one or more GreenCorps service members.
Six GreenCorps members are working with waste and recycling projects, while others spearhead efforts to educate students and the public about waste prevention. The city of Minneapolis and surrounding Hennepin County have service members conducting waste sorts. Bags of collected trash are torn apart and the contents are hand sorted, documented and weighed.
“It’s not always pleasant,” says Souter. “I was there when they were sorting through the trash, and some of it was pretty gross. But it’s also really interesting for them to get at the root of a problem and see what’s going on.” Data from the sorts will help the city and county decide how best to alter their recycling programs to maximize diversion rates.
Another member, returning for her second year, was placed with the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in the Twin Ports area of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis. She works with area schools to optimize their recycling systems, increase the number of bins and improve signage. A third member in southern Minnesota does similar work in schools while also helping to improve recycling in county government offices.
“Another component of her project is improving events recycling,” says Souter. “In Minnesota, summertime fairs are really popular. There’s a different festival in every city all summer long. One of the things she’s going to be doing with the county is looking at ways to improve recycling at these types of fairground and downtown events.”
While the state certainly benefits from the efforts of GreenCorps members, Souter says the program is as much about the education and development of the people who serve. She notes that many GreenCorps members have gone on to garner internships or full-time employment in the fields they worked in, sometimes at the same sites where they did their project work.
“That’s one of our goals as an AmeriCorps program: to not only improve the environment, but to also provide a professional experience and a training experience for people that want to go into the environmental field.”