BANGOR, Maine — Maine volunteer organizations looking to get a financial boost this year now have a chance to apply for $35,000 in planning grants from the Maine Commission for Community Service.
The commission announced the AmeriCorps planning grants earlier this month. The money will be used by organizations to apply for more grants offered next year through federal and state competitions.
The grants the commission is offering range from $12,000 to $15,000, according to commission spokesman Michael Ashmore. They are intended to help organizations in the state develop a robust application for state and national competitions. Applicants have until 2 p.m. Aug. 4 to submit their electronic and paper applications for the grants.
AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government entity dedicated to service programs throughout the United States. The National and Community Service Trust Act created the corporation in 1993. The commission is the distributor of AmeriCorps funding in Maine.
Ashmore said national grant competitions are complex enough that the commission encourages applicants to spend six months or a year planning their applications. The planning grants it is now offering are designed to help organizations create applications, and they come with technical assistance from the commission.
“It’s a challenge even for folks to apply,” Ashmore said. “Nonprofits are under a lot of stress right now because of lower funding and the economic downturn.”
One organization boosted by AmeriCorps in the past is Trekkers, a nonprofit mentoring program in Tenants Harbor that connects adults with children through community service and education. Don Carpenter, executive director of Trekkers, said, “Without AmeriCorps, we would not be where we are today.”
Trekkers has approximately 75 volunteers and only two full-time staff members, as well as an AmeriCorps volunteer. It works with about 160 students every year, and that number will likely go up in the near future because of Maine’s school consolidation. Carpenter said Trekkers probably would need even more help from AmeriCorps in the future.
“We’ve had an AmeriCorps person here for a number of years. It’s fantastic,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said Trekkers has a 92 percent retention rate for seventh-grade students who enter the program and stay with it until they graduate from high school.
Trekkers was reapproved this spring as an AmeriCorps site, meaning it can bid for AmeriCorps volunteers for the coming school year. It can’t apply for the planning grants because it is already an AmeriCorps member, but it greatly benefits from AmeriCorps volunteers, Carpenter said.
Officials from Families and Children Together, a Bangor-based nonprofit, said they use two AmeriCorps volunteers and aren’t familiar with the planning grants being offered. But they did mention they might be interested in learning more about them and the Maine Commission for Community Service. Families and Children Together helps children who are experiencing emotional and behavioral problems.
The application process for the planning grants will place emphasis on proposals from Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Oxford, Penobscot, Waldo and Washington counties because they are areas considered underserved, according to Ashmore.
The commission usually funds three organizations during each triennial grant cycle, Ashmore said, but last year AmeriCorps money funded only one. Despite 41 groups expressing interest in the spring of 2010, none was able to complete the application in time. Therefore, there was money left over, which is what the commission is now offering as planning grants.
The grants cannot be used to support AmeriCorps members or supplement the operations of an existing program, according to a statement by the commission, but several types of organizations can apply for the grants, including private or public nonprofits, state and local government and Native American tribal governments.
There are 120 to 130 AmeriCorps volunteers in Maine, whose efforts range from working with children with disabilities to weatherizing homes, according to Ashmore.
The Corporation for National and Community Service gave $1,342,051 in education awards to Maine volunteers for 2009 and 2010, and provided $2,607,683 in AmeriCorps funding in the same time period.