By Jonathan Bissonette
CENTRAL FALLS – Mayor James Diossa on Tuesday joined thousands of mayors nationwide in honoring and recognizing the impact of national service by commending AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
The recognition event at City Hall was part of the national Mayor’s Day of Recognition for National Service, a national bipartisan effort to recognize the positive impact of national service in cities, thank those who serve, and encourage citizens to give back to their communities.
Thirty-three AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members serve in Central Falls providing support to residents through early childhood education, college access, and K-12 education.
“It’s huge, especially when they’re working inside our schools,” Diossa said. “There’s a very diverse group of young adults who graduated college and want to experience what they learned in college. Even more powerful is to serve communities like Central Falls, where the need is much greater than other communities. Doing this to make the community better is also an exciting experience for them.”
Jessica Pugnali, an education fellow at The Learning Community - a public charter school serving kindergarten through eighth grade students - said that she graduated earlier this year from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and thought about what service meant to her.
She said that being able to connect with students on a personal level, being an advocate, and helping the children find their voices to tell their stories was pivotal. She referenced helping a student develop his English language skills and he has since written a letter thanking her.
“It’s moments like these where I find my purpose and
understand what it means to serve,” Pugnali said.
“I believe a person doesn’t truly grow or improve until they’re pushed beyond their limits,” she continued, adding that she learns about students’ hopes, dreams, and struggles and is “inspired by them every day.”
“I want to inspire and encourage students to have a voice,” she said. “Service and teaching aren’t mutually exclusive to me. What I do is not a job. I’m passionate about it and I want to do it as long as I can.”
In addition to the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps
members and staff in attendance, also at City Hall on Tuesday were representatives from Serve Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Corporation for National and Community Service State Office. Serve Rhode Island is the state’s center for volunteerism and national service. Established in 1994, Serve Rhode Island presently administers nine AmeriCorps state programs funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In the last two years, Serve Rhode Island made grants totaling over $1 million in federal funds to support the work of hundreds of AmeriCorps members assigned in Rhode Island working to meet community needs.
Marisa Petreccia, state director for the Corporation for National and Community Service, said “this connection with mayors and municipal leaders is so important.”
“It’s not just people in Washington, D.C., local leaders are standing up and saying national service is important not just in Central Falls, but
in communities across Rhode Island,” Petreccia added. “What’s great about national service is that anyone can serve and many of our volunteers serve 10 to 15 years.”
There are 300 AmeriCorps members, 85 AmeriCorps VISTA members, and 3,200 Senior Corps volunteers in Rhode Island, she added, calling them “the unsung heroes who go about service, caring about schools and communities … It’s incredible what you do every single day.”
AmeriCorps programs serve their members by creating jobs and providing pathways
to opportunity for young people entering the workforce and places thousands of young adults into service positions where they learn work skills, earn money for education, and develop an appreciation for citizenship, according to the AmeriCorps website.
AmeriCorps VISTA, meanwhile, provides fulltime members to nonprofit, faith-based, and other community organizations and public agencies to create and expand programs that bring low-income individuals and communities out of poverty,
while Senior Corps connects people ages 55 and older with individuals and organizations that need them and helps them become mentors, coaches, or companions to people in need.
Bernie Beaudreau, executive director of Serve Rhode Island, told the assembled crowd: “AmeriCorps is an incredible thing and you’re all pretty incredible people.”
Diossa said he hoped to see future generations inspired by the leaders in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to follow in their footsteps.
“I’m sure that many of those kids who were impacted by the work will be inspired by the students,” Diossa said. “The other powerful part is the seniors who are still involved, it’s healthy and important for seniors giving countless hours but also for the kids who appreciate the love of the volunteers.”
“It is support for the learning community, it shows that it’s OK to serve your community,” the mayor added.