AmeriCorps Opening Day Celebrates Service, Achievement

AmeriCorps members from across Georgia were celebrated on Oct. 22 as part of Opening Day ceremonies. This year’s event included award presentations, rousing speakers, a proclamation from Gov. Brian Kemp, and a service project.

The Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism (GCSV), housed in the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), is a liaison to AmeriCorps. Linda Thompson, GCSV executive director, welcomed AmeriCorps members, saying, “You have consciously decided to give up a year of your life to make the world a better place – and I thank you. It is so great to be a part of this awesome organization!”

Chick-fil-A generously donated space at its headquarters as well as food, beverages and other amenities for the Opening Day celebration. Rodney Bullard, executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, also served as the keynote speaker and shared poignant anecdotes about his life and career.

He recalled his time as a White House Fellow. Two days into his experience, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and Bullard remembered AmeriCorps members being available to assist those affected by the storm. He emphasized his personal and professional commitment to service and encouraged AmeriCorps members to keep contributing to society in positive ways.

“What I saw through that experience was that people and corporations could help,” he said. "You can go out and change the world.”

Three inaugural awards were also presented. John Andrade received the Beyond the Call award that recognizes a member who personifies the following values from the AmeriCorps pledge: take action, seek common ground and persevere in the face of adversity. Andrade serves with Extra Special People in Watkinsville, and this program provides a support for disabled children and young adults to thrive by providing resources such as after-school programs, summer camps, events and more.

Clayton State University’s AmeriCorps program received the Team of the Year award. This recognition marks a demonstration of excellence in mission achievement, operational performance, capacity building and sustainable results. This team serves by tutoring and mentoring high school students and recruiting volunteers for their monthly service projects.

GCSV Board Chairman Dr. Myra Tolbert presented Caroline Ledlie with the Chairman’s award. Ledlie leads Youth Villages AmeriCorps, and nearly 200 members have completed more than 330,000 hours of service under her leadership.

Aimee Simpson, GSCV Commissioner, lauded the winners’ achievements saying, “You could have chosen very different paths. It’s important to the community to honor the work you are doing.”

GSCV also partnered with Veterans Empowerment Organization (VEO) to provide backpacks, toiletries, scarves and other essential items to help homeless men and women who have served the United States through military service. VEO was founded in 2008 and has assisted thousands of homeless veterans to rebuild their lives. DCA employees, GSCV board members, Chick-fil-A, and AmeriCorps members at the Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center provided nearly 100 backpacks and supplies for this initiative.

Gov. Kemp designated October as National Service Month for Georgia. Rusty Haygood, DCA’s Deputy Commissioner of Finance and Community Development, shared the proclamation with attendees. Chester Spellman, director of AmeriCorps at the Corporation for National and Community Service, also led members in the recitation of the AmeriCorps pledge. He said, “Thank you for making this decision to put service above self. You are truly making an impact and changing lives.”