AmeriCorps hikes on out

After seven years, dozens of miles of trails, thousands of hours of work to restore wetlands and even more hours teaching school children, South Whidbey's AmeriCorps team is history.

This week the program's team leader, Will Black, said South Whidbey AmeriCorps will not be back next year. The program, which costs approximately $250,000 a year to operate, failed to win funding through a grant application to Washington Service Corps. The service corps applies to the federal government for several million dollars each year to fund more than 20 AmeriCorps teams in Washington.

Black said the South Whidbey program, which has focused on outdoor and environmental education, was the "darling" of the service corps for three funding cycles. This time around, he said, the South Whidbey program did not have what it took to qualify for a grant.

He said he is not surprised to see the funding dry up, since AmeriCorps teams rarely keep a permanent presence anywhere, except in the neediest of communities.

"AmeriCorps is not meant to be a permanent thing," he said.

Founded in 1993 by President Clinton, AmeriCorps attracts volunteers of all ages to work in communities all over the nation. On South Whidbey, most volunteers have been college-age. All receive a small monthly stipend for the work they do, as well as financial assistance for further education.

During its seven years on South Whidbey, the AmeriCorps team has built woodland trails on publicly owned acreage behind the South Whidbey Intermediate School, at Possession Point and in the Lone Lake area. Team members have worked in classrooms in all South Whidbey schools, teaching environmental science and chaperoning class trips, and promoting recycling programs. The teams have also done fee-for-service projects, including work on baseball fields at the South Whidbey Community Park.

The South Whidbey School District gave AmeriCorps indirect support, providing a portable building behind the primary school for office space.

Black said he found out in December that AmeriCorps' time was up on South Whidbey. The organization's current team on the island will serve until early summer. Black said he does not know if AmeriCorps will return to South Whidbey in the future.

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