Santa Maria’s AmeriCorps Project Advance program has been a vital program of Santa Maria since its adoption into the agency in 2014. AmeriCorps is a national service program that provides full and part-time service opportunities for members. Participants work to serve their communities while increasing the capacity of nonprofit organizations to meet educational, health care, and other social service needs. Each year beginning in September, Project Advance AmeriCorps, a program of Santa Maria, engages AmeriCorps members to serve an 11 month term at nonprofit locations throughout Cincinnati, including within Santa Maria itself. Members are eligible for bi-monthly living stipend ($13,732 total), health insurance, professional training opportunities, plus The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award worth $6,095 toward college costs. Santa Maria recently interviewed Rayanne Pancoast, Jessica Choate, and Deborah Roberts, three AmeriCorps members who have returned to the agency for a second service year, to find out more about their experiences with the program.
1. Why did you first get involved with AmeriCorps?
Rayanne Pancoast: I joined AmeriCorps because I needed a break between my undergraduate and graduate degree, and I wanted to get a different view of the healthcare field. I found
this position specifically and decided to apply for it so I could learn more about the issues
individuals might face and bring that experience with me when working with patients in the
Jessica Choate: I did some shorter disaster-relief service projects in college and worked alongside AmeriCorps members. I wanted to do a longer service term since you can only do so much during short, week-long projects. You can’t really learn about the community you’re serving. I looked at AmeriCorps, specifically at the housing position, because I did a lot of work rebuilding homes and was interested in learning more about the housing system.
Deborah Roberts: I’m here for a more personal reason. I am an older adult and was working at UDF when I received a 20 cent raise and because of that, I had my healthcare benefits taken away. That is the reason I am here but, once I started the program, I really liked it.
2. What has your role been as an AmeriCorps member?
RP: I’m a Bilingual Health Navigator. I help to reduce barriers to accessing healthcare. Last year I focused heavily on client hours, and this year I am focusing more on the 50 Families Project which focuses on 50 families for the long term by helping them get out of generational poverty.
JC: Last year my position was referred to as “Housing Specialist” and now it’s “Economic Coach”. I think the name changed because I did much more than housing; it was more general stabilization. I helped people find housing or stay in their houses, assisted with benefit applications like Medicaid, and helped with utility bills. The position does not have a strict structure which allows the service to fit to the client’s needs.
DR: Right now I am doing a lot of training because my position has changed from Employment Coach to Economic Coach, helping clients with financial and housing assistance. As an Employment Coach, I facilitated workshops to help clients get a job which included working on applications and resumes.
3. What is your most successful client story or memory?
RP: Last June I had a participant who had a tumor and needed surgery to remove it. Her doctor declined to provide the surgery until she had financial assistance. I was able to work with her and get her a referral to UC which provides financial assistance before operations. She was able to connect with a new doctor and hospital, and I was able to be that person who advocated for her and got her in the right place to make sure she could get her tumor removed.
JC: Right when I started, I had a client who had a large past-due water bill and lost water in her house. We worked for months to figure out different ways to get the bill paid down and eventually got the water turned back on. Once that weight was lifted, I’ve seen the client take steps toward achieving other personal goals that she was unable to previously focus on.
DR: One gentleman – I met him last year – came in with a briefcase full of paperwork. He is partially blind, so I just sat down and did paperwork and organized bills for him. I think he needed more of the companionship and someone who wanted to help. He would take the bus to come here when another agency closer to his house was not helping him. He just called me for another appointment so I can help him with some of his paperwork again.
4. What does AmeriCorps mean to you?
RP: Service. AmeriCorps for me is a way to give back to the community. I had done service trips and I wanted to do more of that work long term. I have done three month service projects and liked the consistency, so I wanted more of that. This offered me a more constant opportunity for service.
JC: I think it’s really easy to say you want to help people who aren’t as privileged as you, or whatever your service learning goal may be, but you don’t really understand those needs until you are in it. AmeriCorps is an opportunity to take time to experience the real world. I’m coming off of a four-year undergrad degree and this service year offers an opportunity to make real connections you don’t have the chance making while in the “bubble” of college. Hopefully I can bring this experience to law school and learn how to advocate for people more effectively because of this experience.
DR: It offers training and knowledge by working in different fields I never thought I would experience. I came here thinking ‘I’m a shipment clerk,’ but that’s not true; I’m employment, I’m housing. By me being older and going through that second stage of life I can take the training I learned here and take it somewhere else or keep it here.
5. If someone is interested in becoming an AmeriCorps member, what would you want them to know?
RP: There is a huge support team. Specifically for Santa Maria. The AmeriCorps Program Director and Coordinator are so great and are always willing to talk to us about what is going on at our service sites, what we can do to improve, how we can make things better for ourselves and for our team. As a member, you are not going in this alone; there is
a huge group of people who support you. You get so much training, even if it’s not aligned with your future career goals, it’s helpful for how you work with people in the future.
JC: It can be daunting when you are starting. You need to be patient and allow yourself time to learn. You can get through the beginning, scary part and really help people. Also, you are AmeriCorps working with employees of Santa Maria, but I felt a part of the team; you have everyone’s support.
DR: There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You’re getting experience you need. You’re getting to see how you can help people. It can be frustrating but it’s knowing that this too shall pass and once you get past that you will see how beneficial it is. You’re going to learn a lot. Everyone you deal with, you’re going to impact their life. You may feel like you don’t know a lot, but the information you do know – it’s going to help somebody. I just love it I really do. Maybe I’ll go on my third year!
Interested in helping your community and getting paid for your service? Individuals 18 and older are invited to apply. For more information visit: santamaria-cincy.org/get-involved/americorps-program