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State grant to boost mental health agency in Pa.

November 30, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The equivalent of 10 full-time Americorps volunteers are coming to Franklin and Fulton counties in January, a spokeswoman for the agency that got the grant to pay for them said Monday.

Erin Smith, program coordinator for the Americorps program at the Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties in Chambersburg, said the agency received a $124,000 state grant to bring the volunteers to the area.

They will be assigned to work with nonprofit agencies in the two counties, Smith said.

Two will be assigned to the Mental Health Association to begin an outreach program into the county's Hispanic community, said Ken Wuertenburg, association director.

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"It's a growing population in Franklin County and it has needs that have to be met," Wuertenburg said. "We want to put someone in there who has grown up in the culture, who is bilingual and who can help the people in that community to help themselves."

Wuertenburg said the association received a $20,000 planning grant to set up the Americorps program in the two counties. "We're very excited about it," he said. "We'll be able to do some great things."

Smith said the association's grant was part of a $496,000 round of state grants. She said she plans to apply for more grant money in January. "We want to sustain the (Americorps) program for a second year," she said.

According to its Web site, the Americorps program, sometimes described as a domestic Peace Corps, is a network of national service programs that engage more than 50,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment.

Members serve through more than 2,100 nonprofits, public agencies, and faith-based organizations. They tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs and help communities respond to disasters, the Web site states.

Americorps provides trained, dedicated people to help nonprofits accomplish more and make better use of volunteers, according to the Web site.

It was created in 1993 during the Clinton administration. Smith said the Bush administration supports the program and wants it expanded.

Smith is a former Americorps volunteer who worked on projects in Cambria County, Pa.

She is taking applications from volunteers who want to join the program on either a full-time or part-time basis. She also is lining up participating nonprofit agencies. She hopes to put the program into effect by mid-January.

Anyone age 17 and older can apply. Seniors also are encouraged to apply.

A volunteer who is considered full time will work 1,700 hours over a period of from nine to 12 months. A part-timer would work for 900 hours over the same period, Smith said.

Full-time members will earn a living stipend of $10,197, get health insurance and receive up to $4,725 in education funds to pay off qualified student loans or to take new courses.

Part-time members will earn half that in salary and education funds but will not get health insurance.

Volunteers undergo two weeks of intensive training and will attend local school board and government meetings to learn how government works and to make contacts with people with whom they will need to work, Smith said.

The key to the whole program is to make sure the community continues the programs after the grant money runs out, Smith said.

For information, e-mail Smith at esmith@mhaff.org or call the association office at 717-264-4301.

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