Volunteerism is a strong part of West Virginia culture- neighbors helping neighbors in times of disaster.
A new study released this month says West Virginia has the 5th largest number of people signing up to join AmeriCorps. Those volunteers serve in West Virginia and across the country.
AmeriCorps is a national service program that was created by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and is often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps.
Some of the programs in West Virginia where AmeriCorps members serve include:
1. Energy Express: a tutoring and literacy program
2. Lifebridge: AmeriCorps who are veterans help veterans transition back to civilian life
3. DisasterCorps: AmeriCorps train with the Red Cross to assist communities hit by floods and other disasters
4. Appalachian Forest Heritage Area: AmeriCorps work on cultural and forestry programs, based out of Elkins.
West Virginia has a long history of strong volunteer programs, going back to the sixties when VISTA volunteers came to help people in the coal fields. Bill Basl, director of AmeriCorps, says he thinks one of the reasons so many West Virginians are signing up for his program is because many of them grow up volunteering in their local community.
“It’s that neighbor helping neighbor ethic, that ethic of home grown service, that helps then an individual make that step. So a step to AmeriCorps may not be as big to an individual who has already volunteered in their community, and then says, 'well maybe I can make that kind of commitment for a year.'"
Basl adds that another reason for the high number of AmeriCorps could be the lack of employment options in the state. AmeriCorps members serve 1-4 years and are paid a living stipend (usually between $900 and $2,000 a month) and receive health benefits. AmeriCorps members also receive an education award at the end of their service.