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AmeriCorps Award Helps Mercy Volunteer Give Year of Service

March 14, 2011

By Mike Grathwol, Mercy Volunteer Corps member

I am a Mercy Volunteer serving at St. Joseph’s / Candler SOURCE Program in Savannah, Georgia. SOURCE serves the aged, blind and disabled Medicaid population.

Set up as an alternative to nursing home care, SOURCE coordinates comprehensive healthcare including a personal care physician, case management, in-home personal support services, adult day center health services, home delivered meals, medication control and more. This centralized system helps our members remain compliant with their individual care plan, keeping them healthier and happier, while saving the state considerable amounts of money with the costs to Medicaid being far less than nursing home care.

Part of the plan to keep each of our members happy and healthy is the construction of an informal support. This support system provides the member with a sense of community, as well as a practical means to keep an eye on the member while allowing them to remain as independent as possible. I contribute by being a part of this support system during my year of service and working to ensure the support remains intact after I leave.

I can say without hesitation that I have positively affected the lives of many here in Savannah. I have helped a young boy with cerebral palsy explore his interest in music. I have found ways for a disabled artist to obtain art materials from a local college. I have helped a stroke victim chronicle her life story, apply for and get a job, and start a new life in which she is no longer dependent on disability benefits. I have also been able to volunteer at a local community center to help low-income families and individuals file their taxes for free and receive much needed tax refunds.

My participation in Mercy Volunteer Corps is made possible, in part, by the federally funded AmeriCorps Education Award Program, which provides its members with an education voucher of $5350 for 1700 hours of service. This award can be used to pay off student loans or defray the cost of tuition for future studies.

The AmeriCorps Education Award made post-graduate service a viable option for me.

I graduated in May 2010 from the University of Notre Dame. Many of my classmates are earning sizable salaries this year, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to give back, but with over $30,000 of student loans to repay, I had to weigh my options carefully. It can be difficult, after financing four years of college expenses, to justify delaying employment or graduate studies to volunteer for a year, no matter how good the intention. With my parents no longer supporting me financially and without full-time student status, I had to think about the effects of delaying the next step in my career — what it would mean for my outstanding educational debt and the financial position of my future family.

The AmeriCorps Education Award alleviated these concerns. By earning an education award to decrease my educational debt, in lieu of earning a wage and making monthly loan payments, I am able to do what is most important to me — serving Americans in need.

This education award and the entire AmeriCorps program is in danger of being cut from the federal budget. This is a program that I, as a taxpayer, would be proud to support in the future.

The board of Mercy Volunteer Corps has issued a letter expressing concern about the proposed elimination of AmeriCorps in the federal budget as well as concern about cuts to programs that serve persons who are poor and vulnerable. You can access thathere.

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