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Americorps VISTA volunteer Emilee Meyer

Emilee Meyer, left, of the Billings Metro VISTA Project, works with participant Eric Peterson during a felon re-entry simulation put on the by the Billings Re-Entry Task Force at the Doubletree Inn last November.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

A Trump administration proposal that might eliminate the AmeriCorps program from the 2017-18 federal budget will affect a number of Billings-area programs, according to local organizations.

The cuts under consideration by the White House budget office were reported Friday by The New York Times.

A report included in the Billings City Council packet for Tuesday’s work session lists some of the accomplishments of Billings Metro VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) project participants, who are funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which could be slated for elimination. Brenda Beckett, Billings’ community development manager, declined comment for this story.

But she did offer up statistics on some of the work done by Billings Metro VISTA workers.

From 2007-2016, 177 workers were placed in 43 host sites to impact poverty and homelessness. To date, according to the report "Welcome Home Billings," VISTA members have generated more than $3.5 million to support social services to impact poverty. 

Keely McCave, recently named executive director of CASA of Yellowstone County, said that her agency’s AmeriCorps worker, Shannen Keene, has done “really amazing work” in the fields of cultural competency and policy recommendations on behalf of the agency, which speaks up in court for abused and neglected children.

“She does work that nobody around here would have time to do,” McCave said Monday, including working to boost the number of Native American court-appointed special advocates because “there’s a disproportionate number of Native American kids in the foster care system,” McCave said.

“I’m a big fan of AmeriCorps,” McCave said. In addition to landing a small public relations grant, Keene “has helped us address recruitment and some of our internal policies.”

AmeriCorps volunteers, as they are called, are paid about $900 per month and make a yearlong commitment. Many choose to stay once their commitment is complete.

“They are a smart, educated group of young people,” McCave said.

In an email, Mayor Tom Hanel said the proposed cut would be "extremely disappointing as the program has enhanced Billings and the region tremendously."

"Many existing programs have been enriched, new programs initiated, revenue generated, there has been huge savings for taxpayers and the success stories are abundant to say the least," Hanel wrote.

During 2016, a dozen Billings Metro VISTA workers worked within a number of local agencies and organizations, including a museum, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Billings Housing Authority, faith leaders, community gardeners, and the groups that support area attractions, including the Friends of Pompeys Pillar.

Among the AmeriCorps accomplishments during 2016, as reported by the city's Community Development Division:

  • Emilee Meyer worked with Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, fundraising more than $75,000 and recruiting new volunteers to help serve about 50 low-income families.
  • Garrison Daly helped develop a community health campaign in Red Lodge, recruiting 31 volunteers and raising more than $20,000.
  • Working with the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, Erika Brown helped expand substance abuse recovery services to Native Americans through marketing, communications and fundraising on behalf of the council’s Transitional Recovery and Culture Project. She’s credited with raising more than $31,000 in cash and in-kind donations for the program, which served 82 low-income beneficiaries.
  • Christian Keeve worked with the Billings Parks, Recreation and Public Lands Department, addressing food security in high-poverty Billings neighborhoods through community gardening and urban agriculture. He recruited 83 volunteers who worked more than 300 hours and facilitated events, including an urban farming forum.
  • Laura Yourd worked in the Friends of Pompeys Pillar’s mobile teacher tote program, providing educators with tote bags filled with lesson plans, activities, extra reading materials and props. She trained 15 volunteers on the five different tote programs, which include science, language arts and social studies.

According to the report, eight of the 12 outgoing members will remain in the Billings area. Three have extended their service terms.



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.