AmeriCorps members recognized for service across Georgia

More than 175 AmeriCorps members, alumni and supporters participated in this year’s Opening Day. This virtual recognition event celebrated how Georgia AmeriCorps members contributed to vital service initiatives over the past 12 months. The Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism (GCSV), housed in the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), oversees nearly 600 volunteers in 22 different organizations.

Vonetta Daniels, AmeriCorps alum, delivered the keynote address and focused on how unique experiences can lead to exceptional opportunities. Daniels, director of strategy for Grady Health Systems and president of VYD & Associates, recalled her time as a volunteer and how she discovered her talents and passion through service to others. She also recalled how her time in the Air Force her diversified experience in working with others.

“I knew I wanted to learn more about grassroots nonprofits that were actually working in communities. A lot of community-focused work was being done in Atlanta,” she said of her early volunteer involvement. Daniels said the current “collision course” of racism, injustice and the global health pandemic solidifies the need for service organizations which she says builds leaders.

“We are really in some very unique and unprecedented times,” she said. “We are all dealing with it simultaneously. We are realizing that the problem is bigger and deeper and wider and taller many of us realized.”

Daniels added, “Our world and communities have always needed you. As AmeriCorps members in this time, you have unique experience and diverse perspectives.”

She encouraged members to recognize their talents and abilities as assets. Additionally, Daniels said they can serve as a resource to move communities and the world forward.

“It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times,” she said. “I think now if there has ever been a time where we’ve realized the importance and magnitude of the work we do, it is now.”

DCA Commissioner Christopher Nunn said AmeriCorps is really about neighbors helping neighbors. He further articulated how citizenship and service are tightly linked, with service being the bridge to genuine political and civic responsibility.

“Make the most of your time and enjoy it,” he said. “Don’t forget about the notion of neighbors helping neighbors. It really is about the people.”

This year marked the second awards ceremony on which individuals and groups are presented with accolades. Jen Guynn, GCSV board member, introduced this year’s winners. Covenant House Georgia was named Team of the Year. These members engage with youth experiencing homelessness and help them to gain employment and other beneficial opportunities.

“There are a lot of overwhelming things these kids coming off the streets are having to go through,” Guynn said. “The staff [assists them] with grace, kindness, and compassion. The youth are made to feel safe, seen, heard – and human.”

Sierra Drivers received the Beyond The Call award for her work with New American Pathways and helping children from immigrant and refugee populations enroll in school as well as ensure they had uniforms and other necessary supplies. Guynn said Davis took “an extra dose of patience and persistence” to help families get unemployment funds so they could get the necessary assistance.

Jamie Clayton of the Georgia Sea Turtles Center was named the recipient of the Chairman’s Award. This honor goes to a program director who exemplifies the spirit of AmeriCorps and possesses a strong belief in the power of national service. Guynn said, “[Clayton] has a great understanding and purpose of the AmeriCorps program.”

Linda Thompson, GCSV executive director, lauded the exceptional work of the volunteers. She added, “Just like we say in the AmeriCorps pledge, we persevere. I couldn’t be more proud of such an elite, strong, dedicated and passionate group of individuals. You are the best of the best.”