By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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A lack of federal funding combined with program-compliance problems related to untimely background checks of AmeriCorps volunteers led to the loss of the AmeriCorps funding, said Debbie Schuffenhauer, executive director of the Washington Commission for National and Community Service, which passes federal AmeriCorps funding through to Washington communities.
“With North Olympic AmeriCorps, they have had compliance problems that, in light of decreased funding, we had to make some very tough decisions about where to make these national service investments,” Schuffenhauer said Friday.
Schuffenhauer said that without the compliance issues present, “the program would have been funded, but at a lower level.”
The program, which has a $436,000 budget this year, is administered in Clallam and Jefferson counties by the Clallam County Family YMCA.
The YMCA and other organizations can reapply for AmeriCorps funding for the 2014-2015 year, Schuffenhauer said.
The AmeriCorps program began on the North Olympic Peninsula in 1996, just three years after it was established and two years after it became operational, incorporating Volunteers in Service to America, known as the VISTA program.
North Olympic AmeriCorps consists of 31 volunteers in Clallam County who serve mostly in the Port Angeles, Sequim, Neah Bay and Quillayute Valley school districts as tutors and mentors, and two volunteers in Jefferson County who serve in the Head Start program, said Kyle Cronk, YMCA executive director and acting director of North Olympic AmeriCorps.
There also are two program staff members, he said.
AmeriCorps volunteers, who also serve at the Dungeness River Audubon Center in Sequim and the Arthur D. Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles, are usually between 20 to 30 years old and are paid annual stipends of $12,100, Cronk said.
For about two to four weeks in September, when the program was being run by former YMCA employee Jim Weatherly, volunteers were being allowed to begin their service — and were being paid — before their background checks were completed, making the program out of compliance with new regulations, Schuffenhauer said.
It eventually was determined that “everyone was eligible and had no criminal history that would prevent them from serving,” Schuffenhauer said.
Weatherly could not be reached for comment Friday, and Cronk would not discuss any details of Weatherly's employment.
“There were some breakdowns in understanding of the policies,” Schuffenhauer said.
“It was just one of these things that happen.
“The YMCA has been a good partner of ours for years.”
But the YMCA will have to cover payments that were disallowed because the background-check requirements were not being followed, she said.
“We are waiting for a final determination from the federal funding agency on the amount of funding that will be disallowed, that the YMCA will be responsible for paying,” Schuffenhauer said.
“It could end up being around $30,000 or less.”
Cronk said the money owed by the YMCA would be covered without impact on YMCA operations or membership rates.
Cronk received word about the impending loss of the AmeriCorps program Thursday.
He said federal cuts brought about by sequestration and the competitive nature of the grant application process led to the loss of funding.
Cronk was still feeling the impact a day after learning of the loss.
“I am still shocked,” he said Friday.
“I feel for the over 16 sites and 450 kids we serve.
“It's a huge blow for the community, there's no way around it.”
Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Jane Pryne said the school district “is devastated” by the loss of the program.
“There are AmeriCorps volunteers in every one of our schools,” she said.
“They work tirelessly on behalf of the students.
“They volunteer after school, they volunteer on weekends, they are an amazing group of people.
“Whatever a teacher needs, they are able and willing to help.”
Pryne said the school district and other entities that depend on AmeriCorps will have to regroup and come up with ways to fill the gap left by the loss.
She added that the real impact will not be felt until the beginning of the new school year in September.
She said she intends to contact federal lawmakers to say, “We need the money, so don't cut this program for kids.”
Derek Kilmer, a Port Angeles native who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, called the loss of funding “disappointing” in response Friday to a Peninsula Daily News request for comment.
“This is another reason why Congress needs to end sequestration,” Kilmer said in an email.
“I will continue to work to end the across-the-board cuts and do all I can to restore funding to these programs.”
North Olympic AmeriCorps volunteer Erin White, 24, came to Port Angeles from Florida and works at the district's Lincoln High School and at Serenity House of Clallam County's Dream Center for homeless or at-risk youths.
“At first I was a little shocked, but I always knew with spending cuts with the government and the way they were going that agencies would be hurting,” she said.
“From the [AmeriCorps volunteers] I spoke with, a lot of them are confused,” White said.
“Some of them are really hurt because they know there is a deep need in the community for AmeriCorps.”
Geoff Crump, executive director of Olympic Community Action Programs, which administers the Head Start program in Jefferson County, could not be reached Friday for comment.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.