Evaluating the Impact of the Genesee County AmeriCorps Program On the Members, Partner Organizations, and Local Communities
Bertschi, Jonquil Suzanne
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Since October 1997, I have been serving as an AmeriCorps member in Flint, Michigan, with the Genesee County AmeriCorps Program (GCAP). I work at the Resource Center, a nonprofit organization composed of Leadership Flint, Flint Executive Service Corps, and Volunteer and Information Services. I work exclusively with Volunteer and Information Services, recruiting volunteers for local nonprofits and answering callers' questions about where to receive assistance for various problems such as money for food or utilities, free medical care, or subsidized housing. While performing my job, I feel that I am making a difference in the lives of people that I touch. However, I had no written or concrete proof that this was the case-only my sense that I was making a difference. When I was recruiting volunteers at local colleges and universities, I inevitably encountered people who questioned the purpose of AmeriCorps and the money spent on the program. It was difficult for me to argue the effectiveness of AmeriCorps in general and GCAP in particular. I could say, "I recruited over 800 volunteers last year," to which they would respond, "How do you know they wouldn't have volunteered anyway?" I did not have a response. I could recruit 800 volunteers, they could do 9,000 hours of service, but did anyone's life change as a result? What about other GCAP members? Were tutors really helping kids get better grades? Were HIV I AIDS activists making a dent in the spread of this disease? I simply did not know, and no one else seemed to be able to tell me. I looked over our monthly reports made to The Urban League, the administrator of the GCAP Collaborative. These reports shed little light on our impact. Rather than measuring the effects of our efforts, they measured the products of our efforts. For example, I have never had to measure what happened at a result of recruiting 800 volunteers (e.g. Did they lower crime rates? Did they improve children's education?); I just had to record how many hours they volunteered. Thus began my interest in measuring the impact of GCAP.' When I began this project, I thought it would be easy. After working at the Resource Center for a year, I assumed I would be able to look at existing reports, do a couple of surveys, compile the information, and then I would have the whole thing figured out. However, I soon realized that three months offered little time for uncovering all the information I needed to do an exhaustive report. Instead, I had to learn a lot more about collaborations, personal development, measurements, and time/money constraints. Consequently, I can only offer a glimpse into the impact of GCAP, several suggestions of how to measure this impact in future research and reports, and some tips to make our programs more effective.