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Brian Faulds and Ronnie Miley, military veterans and AmeriCorps VISTA members serving Volunteer Macon through the ALA Call to Service Corps, have spent the last few months of their service terms focusing on an often ignored group of veterans — those experiencing incarceration.
Most recently, Faulds and Miley contributed to a service fair for incarcerated veterans organized by TOPSTEP (The Offender and Parolee State Training Employment Program), an initiative of the Georgia Department of Labor.
The service fair took place at Riverbend Correctional Facility, a medium-security complex in Milledgeville, which is exploring ways to decrease recidivism and create positive outcomes for those people it releases. The VISTA members represented Volunteer Macon and the Macon Community Blueprint, sharing information about community resources for offender veterans upon their release and providing tips for locating employment in the communities to which they will be returning.
“It was great,” said Faulds, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “(The veterans) said they felt human again. It was the first time (since their imprisonment) they were recognized for their (military) service.”
Incarcerated veterans face many of the same issues returning to civilian society as do transitioning servicemembers, such as finding employment, behavioral health services and readjusting to an environment markedly different from the one to which they have grown accustomed. Though often overlooked in the ongoing national conversation about veterans, incarcerated veterans are both significant in number and in dire need of support.
“It’s really interesting when you look at recidivism and compare it to the problem of veterans re-entering society,” Faulds said. “We’ve found that in both cases the major benchmark is getting a job. It’s reinforces the idea that (the individual) is a stakeholder in the community.”
Both Faulds and Miley are finding their service to incarcerated veterans greatly rewarding. Miley, a veteran of both the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army, and a second term AmeriCorps VISTA member through the ALA Call to Service Corps, was effusive about the project and his national service. “It’s a passion for me,” he said. “I think it’s my mission to serve veterans. They’re my comrades-in-arms and I feel close to them.”
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Deborah Hoselton, an AmeriCorps member serving Operation Homefront through the ALA Call to Service Corps, played a critical role in implementing two of the organizations’ support programs for the military community during her just completed service term.
Hoselton was pivotal in executing Operation Homefront’s Fly Away Home initiative, which provides deployed servicemembers with flights home for Father’s Day. This respite for servicemembers is essential for their own well-being as well as the whole military family. “We received about a thousand applications,” Hoselton said. “I screened and ranked applications based on criteria like rank, wounded status, and time away from family. Working with all these families, coordinating their travel…It was a wonderful experience.”
Hoselton also orchestrated the Saban Military Wife Educational Scholarship, a joint program of Operation Homefront and the Women’s Self Worth Foundation. The scholarship helps wives of uniformed servicemembers attend vocational training programs in the medical field. Hoselton was responsible for coordination of the scholarship, which involved evaluating applications, notifying winners of their selection, and helping winners choose eligible institutions.
As both a former military spouse and the daughter of a servicemember, Hoselton held a deep personal investment in her service assignment. Hoselton is a licensed counselor, and originally joined her sponsoring organization due to its work around behavioral health. “I’ve always been involved in the community to some extent,” she said. “I have a background in psychology and was interested in Operation Homefront’s work with [servicemembers and veterans] with PTSD.”
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Betsy Vetor, an alum of the AmeriCorps VISTA program who served the American Legion Auxiliary, was recently recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her volunteer work with the military community. The award thanks and honors Americans who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service. The program continues as an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
1. Where, when, and in what capacity did you serve as a member of the ALA Call to Service Corps?
I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the ALA Call to Service Corps from August 2009-2010 at American Legion Auxiliary Headquarters in Indianapolis. I was in the Corps’ inaugural class. The position I held was in volunteer development.
2. What have you been doing since you left the ALA Call to Service Corps?
Immediately after ending my VISTA year, I was hired by the American Legion Auxiliary as an administrative assistant. My husband, an active duty servicemember, and I then moved to San Antonio, Texas, in May 2011. I quickly joined the Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) Auxiliary, a non-profit military spouse organization operating in support of the Fort Sam Houston community. I served as the membership chair for two years and now serve as the third Vice President in charge of programs.
Editor’s Note: The BAMC Auxiliary holds monthly events and service projects that encourage friendships and support among military families. It also raises funds for various BAMC and Fort Sam Houston organizations including the Fisher House, Warrior and Family Support Center, the Center for the Intrepid, and other departments within the BAMC organization.
3. Do you have any thoughts on the ALA Call to Service Corps, AmeriCorps, public service generally, or any other topic that you’d like to share with our readership?
I definitely benefited from serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the ALA Call to Service Corps, as it helped me learn the ins and outs of a non-profit. Also, I made some pretty great friends through my time there. I think that AmeriCorps as a whole is doing some wonderful things for our nation, and it’s a program that I am happy to be associated with.
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A groundbreaking new report from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) provides the most compelling empirical evidence to date establishing an association between volunteering and employment.
The study, “Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment: Does Volunteering Increase Odds of Finding a Job for the Out of Work?” finds that unemployed individuals who volunteer have 27 percent higher odds of finding a job than non-volunteers. The relationship between volunteering and employment holds stable regardless of a person’s gender, age, ethnicity, geographical area, or job market conditions.
“Many of us in the volunteer sector have long felt volunteering gives a boost to those looking for work, but we’ve never had solid research to back it up,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS. The federal agency used 10 years of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed a nationally representative sample of more than 70,000 individuals 16 years or older who were looking for work. The report examines their volunteer and employment status over two years to determine whether there was a relationship between volunteering and securing a job.
The report’s finding of a 27 percent increase in odds of employment was statistically significant. The association between volunteering and employment remained consistent across each year of the study period and varying unemployment rates, suggesting that volunteering may provide an advantage regardless of economic conditions. Importantly, the relationship was strongest among individuals without a high school diploma (51 percent increase in odds) and individuals who live in rural areas (55 percent increase in odds).
“This research suggests that people with limited skills or social connections – particularly those without a high school education – may see an extra benefit to volunteering as a way to open doors and level the playing field,” said Dr. Christopher Spera, director of evaluation and research at CNCS.
Prior research has shown that volunteering can increase a person’s social connections and professional contacts (social capital) and skills and experiences (human capital), two factors that are positively related to employment outcomes. In addition, some workers may see volunteering as a possible entry route into a new field or organization where they would like to work.
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The American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps’ system for measuring the performance of AmeriCorps members (and the university-nonprofit collaboration that produced the system) received attention recently at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. The conference, held June 2013 in Washington, D.C., is the largest convening of volunteer, national service and civic leaders in the world.
In a workshop presentation, ALA Call to Service Corps Project Director Bob Reeg and others led participants through a review of the ALA’s system for measuring whether the capacity-building activities that ALA Call to Service Corps AmeriCorps Members conduct at their host sites are producing improvements in those sites’ effectiveness in delivering their programs and services to veterans, servicemembers and their families.
Joining Reeg at the workshop were Kathleen Newcomer, Ph.D., Director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at The George Washington University (GWU) and an expert in program evaluation; Diane Mars, a Master of Public Administration candidate at GWU and a member of the student team who developed ALA’s performance measurement system as part of her graduate coursework; and Kathy Moakler of the National Military Family Association, an ALA Call to Service Corps operating site.
The workshop included a brief overview of performance measurement requirements in the nonprofit sector; a thorough description of the ALA Call to Service Corps’ performance measurement system and the science-based process undertaken by the GWU team to develop it; and a status report on how ALA and operating sites are currently implementing the system. Session materials, including a PowerPoint presentation and the performance measurement policy, procedures, and tools, are available at the NCVS website. (Click “Session materials,” then “Session locator.” Choose “search by track” and select “nonprofit capacity-building.” The session ID is “3660.”)
The American Legion Auxiliary is grateful to The George Washington University and Dr. Newcomer for providing pro bono evaluation assistance to our AmeriCorps projects. ALA plans to continue to collaborate with the university as opportunities arise.