2020 Project of the Year: Adult Community Experience Corps, YouthWork

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. 

This program is supported by AmeriCorps

YouthWork’s Adult Community Experience Corps (ACE Corps) offers an opportunity for young adults with mild cognitive impairments, autism, and/or other developmental disabilities to have a meaningful Corps experience.

Adult Community Experience (ACE) is a program operated through the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD). ACE is a transition program that helps young adults with cognitive impairments develop skills for life, social experiences and careers. The program focuses on several important areas, including interpersonal skills, independent living, and career education. Through instruction and situational learning, ACE participants become progressively more confident and self-reliant.

In 2018, YouthWork, a program of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan (CFS), began working with partners to place ACE students, ages 17 – 26, in YouthWork’s AmeriCorps program. YouthWork recruited participants during each semester of the 2018 – 2019 school year and placed top-performing members on full-time crews during the summer. Volunteers and social work interns supported Corpsmembers with a variety of services.

YouthWork ACE Corpsmembers collectively served 15,000 hours in 2018 and 2019, providing quality services to over 50 area non-profits and government agencies. Members constructed nearly 100 picnic tables for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and local parks. They participated in projects in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, replacing over 2,000 feet of boardwalk and stream crossings. They planted more than 10,000 trees. Corpsmembers also helped restore and construct some 50 miles of trail, including a new 1.5-mile-long ADA-rated trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Additional work included historic preservation, removing recyclable material from the waste stream, and various improvement and cleanup projects at local parks.

In addition to completing valuable projects to benefit the community, the YouthWork ACE Corps participants gained job experience and learned skills in financial literacy, public speaking, customer relations, interviewing and résumé development. They also explored post-secondary education opportunities and applied for jobs at local businesses.

Fourteen of the initial 60 Corpsmembers are still serving with YouthWork through August 2020. Some Corpsmembers have received OSHA safety training, Fall Protection and Competent Scaffold User certifications, and Lead Awareness training. Additionally, some members will participate in a Wilderness First Responder training. Two Corpsmembers will be hired as associate team leaders in September 2020. Several members have taken jobs with local businesses while continuing to attend the transition program at TBAISD.

YouthWork came into this initiative with a background working with Opportunity Youth and young people who have experienced trauma. The ACE Corps program, however, has led YouthWork to reflect on their teaching techniques and make a conscious effort to be more empathetic, supportive, and aware of the situations faced by others. Crew Leaders are specifically prepared to work with these populations, completing trauma-informed training and cultural and diversity trainings.

The ACE project has helped provide YouthWork the financial support necessary to create year-round, full-time, benefited positions for team leaders. The project has changed YouthWork from a summer program to a sustainable year-round model and made it possible for them to recruit more than 100 AmeriCorps members.

In the rural part of Northwestern Michigan where YouthWork ACE Corpsmembers live, there are few transportation options and limited job availability. These challenges are compounded for young people with disabilities. The YouthWork ACE AmeriCorps program fills a void and makes it possible for these young people to thrive by providing opportunities to receive job training and work experience in underserved places. Corpsmembers build confidence as they serve the community and realize their ability to make a difference.