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AmeriCorps Cape Cod Makes a Difference on Cape Cod

By on April 28, 2021 in Recent News

It’s National County Government Month and Volunteer Month and we are celebrating county government and volunteers who continue to make significant contributions to our communities. This spotlight is on the AmeriCorps Cape Cod who we thank greatly for all the contributions they make to the county by donating their time and talents!

Some quick background: 

In 1999, responding to the need of the Cape’s environment and town and County departments, the Barnstable County Commissioners and the Resource Development Office proposed the creation of an AmeriCorps program comprised of environmentally-focused, well-trained adults to address Cape Cod’s critical environmental needs. This is a residential program that houses 13 members across Cape Cod. Members serve 1700 hours over the course of an 11-month service term. Members participate in “Group Service” projects on Mondays and Fridays, but they also have “Individual Placements” they go to Tuesdays through Thursdays. Meredith Ballinger is the Program Coordinator and her primary role is to oversee AmeriCorps Cape Cod’s day-to-day operations.

Learn about the AmeriCorps Cape Cod (ACC) program and the services they provide from Meredith Ballinger:

Meredith Ballinger, Program Coordinator

Q: What is the mission of ACC?

A: AmeriCorps Cape Cod responds to the critical environmental and disaster preparedness needs in the Cape Cod community through our four focus areas of 1.) Natural Resource Management 2.) Disaster Preparedness and Response 3.) Environmental Education and 4.) volunteer engagement. AmeriCorps members have improved 130+ acres of land and improved or created 60+ miles of trails and waterways, as well directly served more than 1200 citizens through disaster preparedness and response.

Q: How has ACC contributed to the COVID-19 response over time? What has ACC done for the community in response to COVID-19?

A: AmeriCorps Cape Cod has worn a couple different hats throughout the course of the pandemic. This year our members have assisted at the Little Creek vaccination site in Eastham, setting up the site and directing traffic. Some of our members also signed up to assist the Barnstable County COVID-19 Helpline and Communication team, returning voicemails or creating content for social media.

Q: What challenges has ACC had to face during the COVID-19 pandemic and how have you overcome those challenges?

A: One of the biggest challenges AmeriCorps Cape Cod faced during the pandemic was finding a way to safely bring AmeriCorps Volunteers from all over the country to complete 11 months of service. Our AmeriCorps program is unique because it is a residential program, meaning members live and serve alongside each other. There was not one set of guidance that told us how to safely open and operate our program residence at the start of the service year. ACC staff had to create a set of program policies that would keep our members safe both at the residence and while serving in the community. That meant making some big changes to our program model, which included reducing our Corps from 24 members to 16 and having our staff and members serve in “pods”. Another challenge for our program was one many people faced this year- navigating the virtual world. While many of the service projects could be safely completed outdoors, most of our members had to navigate a remote environmental at some point this year for their individual placements. This meant learning how to operate new video software or navigating spotty Wi-Fi at one of our residences on the Outer Cape while their service partners were also learning how to navigate a virtual world in response to ever changing state and local guidance.

Q: How does ACC utilize volunteers? What do volunteers mean to your department and what would you like to say to your volunteers?

A: All of our AmeriCorps members are essentially full-time volunteers. They receive a modest living stipend. Our members bring a whole range of experiences with them, but more importantly they are resilient and bring a desire to learn and give back to the community. They want to make a difference in the world. Without our members, AmeriCorps Cape Cod wouldn’t exist. ACC staff want to thank our members for signing up for a year of service filled with a lot of unknowns and changes along the way. Your passion, perseverance, and efforts to improve the world around you are appreciated and valued!

Q: How can Barnstable County residents be involved with your program?

A: Barnstable County residents can become more involved with AmeriCorps Cape Cod by following our social media for announcements about what the Corps is up to in the community and be appraised of any community events our members are hosting. During the week of April 18th– 24th, AmeriCorps Cape Cod, in collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers, will be hosting a social distance friendly litter clean-up along the Cape Cod Canal. Anyone can sign up to participate! This year is the 20th Canal Clean-Up ACC has helped facilitate and we are hoping for a large turnout! You learn more and register for the event by going to http://bitly.ws/c6yp.

Q: What is one project/initiative that ACC has completed in the past year that you are proud of?

A: Through our partnership with the Cape Cod Corporative Extension, AmeriCorps Cape Cod members facilitate an interactive water festival called WETFest, to teach Cape Cod students about the fundamentals of water and Cape Cod’s aquifer. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, WETFest needed to be delivered in a completely virtual format! Our Corps has been busy brainstorming different ways to deliver the same material in a fun and engaging format, thinking outside the box to create skits, Tik-Toks, and demonstrations in order to teach and empower students to make simple changes in their day-to-day life to protect our water and be a Ground Water Guardian!

Q: What is a resource/service ACC offers that you would like people to know more about?

A: Every Monday and Friday our members are out in the field completing group service projects as a house. Many of these group service projects fall under our natural resource management focus area, specifically trail maintenance/creation. It’s been really rewarding to see more and more people use these trails AmeriCorps Cape Cod has served on to access the outdoors as a safe socially distant activity throughout the pandemic. The next time you are on a trail or conservation lands look for our AmeriCorps logo to see if ACC has served there recently.

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