Over the past nine years, Flint has become a model for how to engage national service members to address urgent local needs.
The Flint National Service Accelerator, which was established in 2011, has made it easier for community-based groups to secure and mobilize teams of people through national service organizations.
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), which was brought to Flint by the city’s National Service Accelerator, has been a critical component of Flint’s national model. Since 2011, 26 NCCC teams have completed numerous projects in the city of Flint. Their members have provided tens of thousands of hours of service, which helped local organizations complete projects that may have taken much longer or gone unfinished.
“NCCC teams have provided much needed manpower for initiatives that are important to Flint — helping reduce blight and crime, support youth development, improve the housing stock and respond to the water crisis,” said Jenny McArdle, director of Community Impact for the United Way of Genesee County. “We are thankful to have so many teams serve in our community.”
A new model
In 2011, leaders from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint established the Flint National Service Accelerator to explore using national service as a civic engagement strategy. Mott has provided over $5.8 million for the project, which was the first of its kind in the United States.
The Flint model enables multiple community organizations to strengthen their individual service programs and, collectively, grow the number of skilled national service members placed in the community. In 2014, Flint became a demonstration site with a goal of expanding the number of national service members in the community to 250 annually — a 10-fold increase from the baseline. That goal was reached in 2018.
The Accelerator, which became a program of the United Way of Genesee County in 2015, also provides additional networking and professional development opportunities for members serving in Flint. Specialized professional development opportunities help members better prepare for their next step after AmeriCorps, McArdle said.
Flint’s national model of service helps bring together resources needed to address crucial needs in the community quickly and efficiently, while allowing the service members to feel more connected and be more embedded in the Flint community.
“AmeriCorps is America at its best — people putting compassion into action,” said Gina Cross, acting director of AmeriCorps NCCC. “Our community partners in Flint at the National Service Accelerator are visionaries, finding innovative ways to use national service to solve the unique challenges of the community.
“I’m proud that AmeriCorps NCCC — and all national service programs — can be a part of those solutions. As we have in communities across the country, AmeriCorps NCCC will continue to help Flint get things done, working alongside residents to build a safer, stronger future for the city.”
Champions for Flint
NCCC teams have spent time in Flint boarding up abandoned homes, sorting and distributing food, helping with blight removal and neighborhood cleanups, building houses and supporting educational programs.
In February 2016, NCCC teams brought in and coordinated by the United Way of Genesee County and the local Red Cross were among the first groups to arrive in Flint to distribute bottled water and filters and coordinate volunteers during the Flint water crisis. That year, two teams distributed 13,284 cases of water, 213 filtered water pitchers, 601 faucet filters, 1,450 water testing kits and 7,461 replacement filter cartridges.
In 2019 alone, NCCC AmeriCorps members served more than 10,000 hours in Flint. Their accomplishments included: sorting and distributing 16,737 pounds of food; removing 113,530 pounds of debris, trash and vegetation; boarding up 416 abandoned houses; and supporting 300 students through educational programs.
Over the past nine years, NCCC members have worked with the Crim Fitness Foundation, United Way of Genesee County, American Red Cross, Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, the City of Flint Police Department, Power of One and the Flint Housing Commission.
The City of Flint Police Department has worked with the NCCC teams since the spring of 2018, said Devon Bernritter, deputy chief of police.
“The focus of this partnership was to address neighborhood blight through community cleanup projects and to foster the relationship between residents and the police department through community policing and residential safety activities,” Bernritter said. “NCCC was able to bring large groups of people into Flint to help address cleanup issues quickly. When the teams came into a neighborhood, frequently, the residents would come out to see what was happening, and after seeing all of the work being done, many pitched in and participated side by side with the teams, improving their own neighborhoods.”
On average, there was approximately a 10 percent reduction in crime in the blight project areas, Bernritter said.
The impact reaches further than the physical work. NCCC members come from all over the U.S., and they experience Flint in a new way, McArdle said.
NCCC members, who serve in a location for six to eight weeks at a time over the course of their 10-month service term, connect with local organizations in a meaningful way, commit hundreds of hours of service, and offer manpower and dedication to help the community.
“Through NCCC teams coming to Flint, learning about the community and taking away their experiences to share with their friends and family, we are creating a cadre of people who know more about Flint than what’s in the headlines,” McArdle said. “It is our goal to provide teams the best service experience they have in any community and turn them into ambassadors and champions for Flint.”