Arkansas Amer­iCorps pro­gram takes year off amid host search

Texarkana Gazette - - METRO / STATE - By Ash­ton Eley

FAYET­TEVILLE, Ark.— Gar­den Corps is look­ing for a new pro­gram host site to con­tinue help­ing com­mu­nity gar­dens in North­west Arkansas and across the state.

Arkansas Gar­den Corps is a six-year, state-based Ameri Corps pro­gram cur­rently hosted by the Ac­cess to Healthy Foods Re­search Group at the Arkansas Chil­dren's Re­search In­sti­tute in Lit­tle Rock. It placed ser­vice mem­bers at 15 dif­fer­ent sites through­out the state this past year, the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat Gazette re­ported.

Gar­den Corps mem­bers specif­i­cally serve in school and com­mu­nity gar­dens to de­velop and main­tain gar­dens, con­duct gar­den-based ed­u­ca­tion and build vol­un­teer and com­mu­nity sup­port for gar­dens. The pro­gram's host helps to con­nect mem­bers to their ser­vice sites.

Pro­gram Di­rec­tor Emily English said Gar­den Corps will be tak­ing a year off while it looks for a new or­ga­ni­za­tion to act as host. Or­ga­ni­za­tions around the state have ex­pressed in­ter­est, and meet­ings were re­cently held to dis­cuss pos­si­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion col­lab­o­ra­tions and the fu­ture of the pro­gram, she said.

"For many years, Arkansas Chil­dren's Re­search In­sti­tute has sup­ported Arkansas Gar­denCorps in as­so­ci­a­tion with Amer­iCorps," ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the in­sti­tute. "ACRI rec­og­nizes the com­mu­nity ben­e­fit of Arkansas Gar­denCorps and is ac­tively as­sist­ing with the search for a new spon­sor by fund­ing pro­gram staff dur­ing FY19."

Any­one in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a ser­vice site or ser­vice mem­ber can take a sur­vey at arkansas­gar­den­, English said. They still plan to have a 2019-20 ser­vice year.

Amer­iCorps has pro­grams na­tion­wide that work to ad­dress a va­ri­ety of com­mu­nity needs through dif­fer­ent pro­grams and cre­ate jobs for their mem­bers. Mem­bers com­mit their time to ad­dress com­mu­nity needs.

In Arkansas, Amer­iCorps mem­bers have been able to serve more than 80,000 peo­ple. Amer­iCorps has pro­grams— in­clud­ing Gar­denCorps—op­er­at­ing in all 75 coun­ties, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

Jonathan McArthur viewed his Gar­denCorps ex­pe­ri­ence in 2013 as an in­tern­ship, he said, and used the knowl­edge he gained from his hor­ti­cul­ture de­gree to help cre­ate the first Sa­mar­i­tan Gar­den at the non­profit group's Rogers site. The non­profit then hired him as gar­den pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor.

McArthur wrote a grant and su­per­vised a ser­vice mem­ber this year who did not know much about food health and gar­den­ing, but put her pas­sion with her knowl­edge of teach­ing to cre­ate a cur­ricu­lum for 8- to 16-year-old stu­dents.

"There are plenty of ser­vice mem­bers that come in with­out any ex­pe­ri­ence or to­tally dif­fer­ent back­grounds be­cause they are in­ter­ested in broad­en­ing their hori­zons," he said.

Tri Cy­cle Farms and Ap­ple Seeds, both based in Fayet­teville, are two long-time host sites for Gar­denCorps and other Amer­iCorps ser­vice mem­bers.

Kyra Ram­sey, Ap­ple Seeds farm co-di­rec­tor, said a three out of nine peo­ple on their team are Amer­iCorps Vista mem­bers, which is a one-year com­mit­ment. Mem­bers help with day-to-day op­er­a­tions and with build­ing ca­pac­ity.

Ap­ple Seeds works to teach thou­sands of stu­dents in the area nu­tri­tional prin­ci­pals and how to cook. Last year the farm reached about 7,000 stu­dents, and it is set to reach even more this year, Ram­sey said.

"With our growth, we could not have done this with­out Amer­iCorps," she said.

Vol­un­teers are also a large part of their work­force, but they don't al­ways make the same level of com­mit­ment as ser­vice mem­bers.

Vol­un­teers from Gar­denCorps and Amer­iCorps NCCC, which is a full-time, res­i­den­tial, team-based pro­gram for young adults who of­ten work on larger con­struc­tion projects, have also helped Ap­ple Seeds.

Non­profit groups, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and state agen­cies can ap­ply for grants through one of the pro­grams, which in turn helps pay ser­vice mem­bers. Mem­bers earn an ed­u­ca­tion award at the end of their stint—rang­ing from a few months to a year—which pro­vides money that can be used for col­lege tu­ition or to pay off stu­dent loans.

Kar­ley Kind­berg has been work­ing at Tri Cy­cle as a Gar­denCorps mem­ber since June. The money is not great and she works an­other part-time job, she said, but the in­tern­ship-like ex­pe­ri­ence is ex­actly what she wanted out of col­lege.

Kind­berg does hands-on work as a gar­den man­ager, har­vest­ing and weigh­ing veg­eta­bles and fruits. She knew she had a pas­sion for sus­tain­abil­ity, which was her mi­nor in at Mis­souri State Univer­sity, but she did not have much knowl­edge of how gar­den­ing worked.

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