AmeriCorps projects get $4 million in federal funds to meet local needs

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri Department of Economic Development awarded more than $4 million of federal funding to more than 20 Missouri community development projects to support their AmeriCorps members

Primaris Foundation’s CLAIM and the Missouri River Communities Network’s Healthy Food AmeriCorps Program are two of the projects on the list.

Executive Director of Primaris Foundation, Carol Beahan, said the organization will have 13 AmeriCorps Members for the service year of 2017-2018.

“They are able to assist people on Medicare to explain their benefits to make informed decisions and advocate for people when in a complex medical system become confused or tangled,” she said.

Beahan said the grant will help with the members’ work in 13 targeted counties.

“The knowledge and understanding they share with a person to understand their Medicare benefits can lead the person to receive preventative services they may have not known about, resolve a coordination of benefit issue, or save money by choosing a plan that better met their needs,” she said. “They make a difference every day in peoples lives.”

Executive Director of the Missouri River Communities Network, Steve H. Johnson, said the organization received about $133,000 to sponsor 10 AmeriCorps members, who will serve in six different communities in Ashland, Columbia, Kirksville, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Johnson said the organization has been doing the Healthy Food AmeriCorps Program for a few years, and it always partners with other local nonprofits by providing “AmeriCorps resources”—the grant and members—to support their existing programs doing “garden-based nutrition education.”

Clint Brinkley, 24, is about to start his third year in the Healthy Food program. He said he served as the organization’s AmeriCorps member in Ashland at Southern Boone Primary School and taught children from kindergarten to fifth grade once a month to grow food.

“You would see kids the first month of the school year, and some of them wouldn’t understand that a carrot comes out of the ground, you know, much less be willing to eat things like that,” he said.

Brinkley said, over time, the project saw “wild improvements” in students’ eating habits, as they felt more comfortable and less afraid of the healthy food they grew.

“You teach them what goes into taking care for it, watching it turn from a seed to a sprout, and it’s this huge full plant,” he said. “And then, the best part is taking it out of the ground, you know, wash it—they get to see how nice and orange and bright it is. And then, they’re just so much more willing to eat it.”

Matthew Dolan, 26, will work in Columbia at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture on a different program. 

He said the program also advocates for healthy food but is targeted toward Columbia residents living with reduced resources to equip them with knowledge they need to “start making healthy food for themselves in their backyards.”

“They’ll learn it at their own houses,” he said. “We go to a person’s house and build a raised bed garden and bring seeds, bring the soil fill in the garden, the compost and everything.”

Johnson said as an organization aiming to “enhance stewardship of the Missouri River,” it hopes to use the federal grant to develop better programs that’ll essentially promote economic development in the entire Missouri River Valley.

“The most immediate opportunity for economic development in the Missouri River Valley is to start growing our own food, instead of shipping it in from California or Colorado or Texas or Mexico,” he said.

According to Johnson, Boone County alone spend around $850 million a year on food.

“Right now, every time we spend a dollar on food that is not grown in Boone County, that money leaves our community,” he said. “So it’s a little ironic that we’re buying most of our fruits and vegetables from thousands of miles away.”

Johnson said he wants more local people to utilize natural resources to grow food.

“Here in the Missouri River Valley, we have some of the most fertile soil on the face of the earth, and we have something that a lot of areas of the world and a lot of areas in the United States don’t have, which is water,” he said.

Johnson said the grant helps pay for the members’ living allowance and health insurance, but it won’t do too much.

“You don’t get rich being an AmeriCorps member,” he said. “Your living allowance is about $1,000 a month.”

Brinkley said he joined AmeriCorps at age 21, and he hasn’t left.

“I kinda fell in love with service,” he said. “You know, it felt so good and satisfying to be able to give back to my community, whether it be my local community or my national, world community.”