March 1, 2021 | By Chuck Carlson
Albion College has received a nearly $185,000 grant from the Michigan Community Service Commission AmeriCorps program to bolster community partnership and provide additional support for one of the College’s signature community engagement programs.
“The goal of this grant is to build deep, long-standing partnerships with communities and to place students with community partners on a long-term basis,” said Lindsey Knowlden, Albion College’s new director of AmeriCorps programs. “Through AmeriCorps service, Albion College AmeriCorps members will help to foster sustained, impactful partnerships with community organizations, collaborating to address barriers and gaps in services within the areas of education, community health, youth development, food security, and economic opportunity and development."
Albion's AmeriCorps program is funded through the Michigan Community Service Commission, which is the administrative agency in the state for AmeriCorps. The Michigan Community Service Commission utilizes service as a strategy to address the state's most pressing issues and empowers volunteers to strengthen communities.
A prime example of Albion College community engagement is the newly renamed Bonner Build Albion Fellows, which will now welcome the resources and support of the Princeton, N.J.-based Corella & Bertram F. Bonner Foundation. Since 1990, the Bonner Foundation has welcomed dozens of colleges and universities on a mission to help transform students, communities and campuses through community engagement.
"Due to their leadership abilities and commitment to the community, Bonner Build Albion Fellows are being given the first opportunity to participate in AmeriCorps and to receive the increased benefits of the program,” said Anne-Marie Berk, the College’s chief advancement officer for grants and foundation relations, who helped secure the grant.
Donisha Brewer, an Albion native who in January was named the new coordinator of the Bonner Build Albion Fellows, believes this grant plays exactly to the strengths of both the Bonner Foundation and Build Albion Fellows.
“The Build Albion Fellows model and the Bonner model are very closely related,” she said. “The idea is that students will go into the community and develop relationships, and then they’ll develop their own skill sets and grow through their engagement.”
Build Albion Fellows began in the fall of 2014 as a way to help local students interested in pursuing a liberal arts education receive that opportunity at Albion College. Eligible students need to live in the Albion area or former Albion Public Schools district and, after being admitted to Albion College, demonstrate high financial need based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and a commitment to service in the local community. Students admitted into the program receive financial support; in return, the fellows will engage in community-based projects.
There are currently 36 Fellows across the four class cohorts and a new group of up to 10 incoming students will be announced in the spring. All will have “access to education, opportunity to serve,” as the goal of the Bonner Program states.
At Albion, students will sign up for a term of service from May to August through AmeriCorps ranging from 300 to 675 hours, an average of 20 to 35 hours a week, Knowlden said. Based on the term they select, they will receive a living stipend and a Segal Education Award, an award from AmeriCorps in which qualified students can repay student loans and pay current educational expenses.
Knowlden said funds from the AmeriCorps grant became available earlier this month and will run through August 31, at which time the College will re-apply for another year’s grant.
The goal of the grant is to provide access for all students, not just those in the Bonner Build Albion Fellows program, to provide opportunities for people of all ages to help improve the nation through service.
“It’s a chance for volunteers to get an idea of what they want to do,” said Brewer, who added that not only will Bonner Build Albion Fellows students continue to do their summer community project but they also will receive additional benefits to engage during the school year. “There are three areas we want students to explore: personal interest, academic interest and community engagement.”
On the engagement side, primary conversations have been with local nonprofit groups that focus on youth and education, economic development and building healthy futures for Albion residents.
“To pursue an Albion education means to invest in our public purpose,” said Albion College President Dr. Mathew Johnson. “Our students are seeking ways to put their education into action and have a positive impact on the world. Community engagement both strengthens the work of our community partners and provides meaningful experiential learning opportunities to our students. That collaboration between the College and the community is a vital part of our educational mission.”
For Knowlden, who comes to Albion from Colorado where she recently earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver, this is an ideal opportunity to continue her work in higher education and community service.
“There’s a growing focus on community engagement work and supporting community engagement efforts,” she said. “This grant will provide additional support for that and increase engagement.”
Brewer, who still has much of her family here, had the opportunity to attend Albion but said with a laugh, “I needed to get away for a little bit, but not too far.” She graduated from Adrian College in 2012 with a degree in psychology. Her early work experiences following graduation include serving as operations manager at Albion’s Kids ‘N’ Stuff children’s museum and overseeing an early Head Start program in Ludington. She decided to return home in 2018.
“Growing up in town, I’ve always been involved in community engagement,” she said. “And when this opportunity came up, it was definitely a fit I was grateful for. It was perfect.”