Posted July 12, 2011
The AmeriCorps program has had a profound effect on 27-year-old Cassie Stover of Hazelton, who has been an AmeriCorps health advocate for Head Start in the Burley-Twin Falls area for most of the last year.
"AmeriCorps not only allowed me to participate in a program my heart is truly invested in, but it also allowed me to reach into my own community and do volunteer activities outside of Head Start," said Stover, who finishes her one-year AmeriCorps commitment in August.
"My personal growth," she continued, "has really come out in the last year. I’ve found a sense of not only family, but community as well."
Stover, a mother of four children ages 2 to 8, has for years participated in the Idaho Head Start/Early Head Start program, which is geared towards children from birth to age 5. After being selected as an AmeriCorps member by one of two AmeriCorps programs administered by the Idaho State University Institute of Rural Health, Stover was able to give back to the Head Start program she loves.
"I believe that without the Head Start program I wouldn't be who I am today," said Stover, who has been nominated as a parent of the year for the Idaho Head Start Association and as a member of the National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement advisory Board. "It taught me how important it is to be my children's first and most important teacher and I am proud to say I learned how to excel in leadership roles and that is how I heard about the AmeriCorps program."
The ISU Institute of Rural Health administers two AmeriCorps programs:
• The Idaho Healthcare Children & Families AmeriCorps program funded by Serve Idaho – the Governors Commission on Service & Volunteerism, which has 10 stipended health advocates serving at Head Start/Early Head Start Programs statewide, one of whom is Cassie Stover. ISU has administered this program for two years.
• The Idaho Community HealthCorps (AmeriCorps) Program, funded by the National Association of Community Health Centers – Community HealthCorps, which has eight HealthCorps members serving at community health centers and other non profit health-related agencies throughout the state including in Boise, Coeur d'Alene and Pocatello. The ISU Institute of Rural Health has administered this program for more than 10 years, placing more than 135 members in health centers and community organizations to provide health-related services.
"AmeriCorps cannot displace employees or duplicate current services and is designed to address unmet needs, fill gaps, and expand and augment services that are provided," said Debbie Green, senior grant coordinator for the ISU Institute of Rural Health's AmeriCorps programs.
Full-time AmeriCorps volunteers must serve 1,700 hours and there are 900-hour part-time slots available as well. Green said the program benefits everyone involved.
AmeriCorps members gain professional experience, receive a modest living stipend, and an educational award to pay off past student loans or to use towards higher education.
"The program also has motivated the members to pursue health care or public service fields merely by their experience," Green said. "For some it is their first job. For others it opens the doors to new adventures and possibilities that they otherwise would not have pursued. The majority of them feel rewarded and feel that they are making a difference in their community – that in itself is the key."
"In addition," she added, "the sites themselves can offer services, create new programs, and offer additional help that they otherwise would not be able to provide."
For Stover, her year as an AmeriCorps health advocate has passed quickly as she has been dedicated to finding resources for Head Start families. Her work tasks have varied from conducting screeners for testing children's hearing and vision to being an advocate for immunizations. She has made sure the Head Start center's in her region are fully equipped with all the supplies that are needed, like first-aid kits, and she has completed health and safety checks on the facilities to make sure they are following proper policies and procedures.
"I also present information to parents on topics like children's lead exposure and any new policies and procedures related to health and nutrition," Stover said. "I've also been involved this year with the IMIL (I am Moving, I am Learning) curriculum program teaching children about their bodies, health and nutrition and dancing and having fun. It is a proactive approach for addressing childhood obesity in Head Start and Early Head Start. We’re one of the first areas in the state to implement this new program."
Stover's experience with the AmeriCorps programs administered by the ISU Institute of Rural Health shows a true success story in changing these AmeriCorps members' lives and those they are reaching out to and helping.
"It is a rewarding experience for all involved," Green said.