By JESSE BURKHARDT
There was an unexpected piece of bad economic news last week, and it could have a direct impact on the mid-Columbia River Gorge region.
Representatives of the Northwest Service Academy (NWSA) reported that the community service organization, which is under the AmeriCorps umbrella, will not get federal funding during fiscal year 2011.
The NWSA received the notification of the anticipated budget cuts on May 28.
AmeriCorps' mission is to "improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering."
The AmeriCorps program, created under President Bill Clinton, is overseen by the Corporation for National & Community Service -- the federal agency responsible for allocating AmeriCorps funding.
"Educational Service District 112, located in Vancouver, has been a recipient of AmeriCorps funds to support NWSA since 1993, and has always met or exceeded performance and financial evaluations," explained Tim Foley, executive director of the NWSA. "NWSA has often been singled out as a model AmeriCorps program and a standard bearer for what is possible in national service programs. We have managed roughly 4,000 AmeriCorps members who have contributed millions of dollars to local economies and community organizations through their efforts."
Brendan Norman, director of the Mount Adams Center, said it is possible the entire NWSA operation in Trout Lake will close.
"AmeriCorps funding represents nearly 50 percent of our annual budget," Norman pointed out. "We're diligently working on plans to bridge this funding gap, but if we're unsuccessful, the Mount Adams Center could close upon completion of our current program year in December."
Foley pointed out that, in 2008-2009, NWSA AmeriCorps members recruited and engaged more than 36,000 volunteers in community service projects. They educated or engaged more than 97,000 students; monitored or removed 54,997 acres of invasive plants; planted or cared for 208,000 native trees, plants, and shrubs; and built or maintained 513 miles of public trails.
"For these reasons and more, we are surprised and disappointed in the Corporation for National & Community Service's decision not to renew funding for this exemplary program," Foley added.
The Mount Adams Center's most recent annual budget was about $1.8 million. That covered the cost to employ eight full-time staff members, as well as 73 AmeriCorps members working on community projects throughout the Pacific Northwest.
According to Norman, the 73 AmeriCorps volunteers currently serving with the Mount Adams Center will not be affected by the potential closure because funding for the current service year remains intact. However, the budget decision would affect the service year that begins in January 2011.
Norman added that he is not sure why NWSA was not selected for continuation, as the NWSA has been very effective.
"Minimal details were provided when we were informed of the decision. We hope to learn more in the coming weeks," he said. "Nonetheless, the decision is confusing, as NWSA has been an exemplary program throughout its history. We have a solid track record of financial management, strong partnerships locally -- with the Underwood Conservation District, Hood River Water & Soil District, and the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute -- and regionally, with the U.S. Forest Service, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. We have had incredible AmeriCorps members, many of whom continue to serve their communities long after finishing our program."
Amanda Lawrence, internship program coordinator at the NWSA's Mount Adams Center in Trout Lake, said the NWSA is seeking the public's help in an effort to keep the program alive in the local area.
"We are currently accepting letters of support and stories about the impact NWSA has had on local environmental organizations, in our community, and the impact NWSA has had on the lives of our members," Lawrence explained.
Lawrence said anyone wishing to assist in the effort can call her at (509) 395-3467.