Montclair State University is leading AmeriCorps’ COVID-19 efforts in New Jersey, providing students and alumni the opportunity to serve with nonprofits and local agencies to meet the urgent pandemic-related needs of the state.
Jessica Umana is one of a dozen Montclair State students accepted into the new NJ COVID-19 Service Corps program. As a senior majoring in Child Advocacy and Policy with a minor in Social Work, Umana says she applied “because I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to help people while also gaining experience in the helping field.”
Umana and 11 more Red Hawks are joining students statewide as Montclair State’s Center for Community Engagement administers a $418,000, three-year grant from the New Jersey Commission for National and Community Service earmarked for the NJ COVID-19 Service Corps effort. An additional $100,000, one-year grant was awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives.
The program focuses on New Jersey’s low-income communities, where the impacts of the coronavirus itself, job loss, hunger, homelessness and limited access to medical and mental health care are endemic.
At Montclair State, recruitment has come through the Department of Social Work, working with Clinical Specialist and Field Director Lesley Dixon, and the Department of Public Health, aided by Clinical Specialist Dena Quinones.
“These students are either doing intake or they’re providing connections to local food pantries, housing, government hotlines and federal services,” says Jessica Pichardo, project coordinator at the Center for Community Engagement, adding that Montclair State NJ COVID-19 Service Corps students have been paired with agencies such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey and Wafa House, a nonprofit agency formed to provide social service outreach to Passaic County’s Muslim population.
In addition, the Center is also working with other New Jersey institutions of higher education to provide opportunities – including Rutgers University, The College of New Jersey, and New Jersey City University.
The program is still new, Pichardo says, and partners and services will grow. “We went from receiving the grant funding in October to having 20-plus members online with us in February,” she says. “That is super speed. We’re continuing to build the plane as we’re flying it, and we’re making those connections.”
Pichardo also says that it takes a special kind of student – or recent grad – to qualify.
“One thing that the New Jersey COVID-19 Service Corps program looks for is a passion and commitment to service, as well as being able to team with the group and independently. There’s a lot of thought that goes into our interviews and meeting with candidates that helps us make a decision and make sure that we’re preparing our AmeriCorps members, matching them with the best organization and giving them the best experience in AmeriCorps, as well as making sure that the work that they’re doing is very meaningful to them.”
The AmeriCorps program provides a modest living stipend and an education award to use toward repaying student loans or on further education. Students can put their hours toward their internship for a degree and connect with potential employers, but also, says Pichardo, they are “doing something meaningful and engaging with people.”
Mioandrys Rodriguez is working toward a Master of Social Work with a specialization in Children, Youth and Families at Montclair State. She said she was drawn to the NJ COVID-19 Service Corps even though she was already performing COVID-related tasks through an internship: “I knew with AmeriCorps I could do more.”
Says newly minted NJ COVID-19 Service Corps member Umana, “I’ve always liked the idea of helping others. The pandemic has been tough, but we’ll get through it together.”
For more information about the New Jersey COVID-19 Service Corps, contact Jessica Pichardo, AmeriCorps program manager at Montclair State University at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann
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