In 2020, the Foundation, in partnership with Serve Washington, launched the WA COVID Response Corps to create a youth service program for people between the ages of 17 and 25 in the State of Washington to respond to record levels of community need resulting from the COVID-19 crisis while expanding meaningful opportunities for young people whose lives were disrupted by the pandemic. During the second year of the WA COVID Response Corps, the initiative expanded to address additional community needs, including mental health, workforce development, education, and foster youth transition. To increase access for proximate young adults to serve in AmeriCorps, the Response Corps increased the AmeriCorps living allowance, created an emergency fund for members, piloted member professional development around career readiness, industry-specific skill development, and social justice leadership, and mitigated financial barriers for BIPOC-led and small community-based organizations to participate in AmeriCorps.
Building on its work in Washington state, the Foundation launched the National Service Challenge in May 2021 to support states and state service commissions working to re-envision how national service can better serve young adult AmeriCorps members, especially BIPOC and low-income young adults, through programmatic and policy changes. The National Service Challenge focuses on improving outcomes for proximate young adult AmeriCorps members through three broad categories:
· Member recruitment: Increasing the number of young people participating in AmeriCorps who are between the ages of 17 and 25 and whose race and income reflect the composition of the communities being served.
· Member retention: Increasing the retention of these young people once they enroll in AmeriCorps.
· Service-to-career pipeline development: Providing professional development for members that enable them to advance along their career path as well as providing members with coaching and resources to ensure they successfully transition from service to an upwardly mobile career pathway or education institution.
Recognizing the role of philanthropy as an innovation partner to the public sector, the Foundation offered matching grants of $100,000 to $250,000 to state service commissions partnering with philanthropy. As a result of the Challenge, the Foundation invested $3.5 million to support the work of eight states: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington and unlocked $7.1 million in grants from local and national philanthropic partners.
In addition to matching grant funds, all eight state service commissions in the National Service Challenge are participating in a Learning Collaborative facilitated by America’s Service Commission to share insights and effective practices and to develop recommendations for states and the AmeriCorps agency on supporting innovation in national service that builds service as an opportunity path for proximate young people. Learning Collaborative convenings are held monthly to allow states opportunities to share their work, discuss challenges, and highlight promising practices.