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CitySquare, AmeriCorps Provide A Second Chance

by Kate Enos

Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Robert Velasco, II, visited CitySquare last month to highlight the work being done to strengthen communities in the Dallas/Ft.Worth metro area. Below is a story that highlights the opportunities that national service can provide.

Many Americans struggle with poverty issues. According to the Census Bureau, 1 out of 6 Americans are living in poverty. In the Dallas-Fort Worth Metro Area, more than 14.6% of individuals live below the poverty line and statewide, 4.6 million Texans live in poverty, putting Texas 3% higher than the national average.

In the face of unemployment and poverty, one Dallas resident found a pathway to opportunity through AmeriCorps in his search for food and shelter.

Employed his entire life, a three year stretch without a job left Chris Oliver evicted from his apartment with no food or shelter. Oliver turned to CitySquare, a local nonprofit that provides vital services to neighbors in search of food and housing. It was there he discovered AmeriCorps.

“Before leaving, I filled an application out to become an AmeriCorps member and was accepted that day,” said Oliver. He started work the next day, helping those who were in his shoes one the day before.

At CitySquare, there are currently more than 70 AmeriCorps members who work every day to help feed the hungry and tutor at-risk youth. Since 2006, CitySquare has placed and managed more than 1,000 AmeriCorps members. Over a five-year period, AmeriCorps members and CitySquare have partnered with 39 community agencies in afterschool and summer programming and served more than 14,000 youth throughout Dallas and San Antonio.

As the issues of hunger and poverty affect more Americans each day, the number of Dallas residents who have turned to City Square has steadily increased. In 2011, AmeriCorps members with CitySquare's Hunger Programs have fed more than 18,500 neighbors and are on track to surpass last year's totals.

“The food pantry has seen longer lines of people waiting for food assistance and more neighbors repeatedly having to turn to the pantry for help,” said Amanda O'Neill of CitySquare.

In 2010, more than 2.4 million pounds of food, valued at $2 million, were distributed to more than 27,000 people, or about 12,000 families going through a financial crisis. AmeriCorps members have also helped implement the Nurture Knowledge and Nutrition Feeding Programs, serving more than nutritious meals and snacks to at-risk children in day cares, after-school and summer programs.

As for Chris Oliver, AmeriCorps and CitySquare did more than just help him put food on the table – they've both provided him with a second chance to start his life over. After two years of service with AmeriCorps at CitySquare, Oliver was hired for a full-time position with the organization to work in the homeless outreach program.

“I was on the verge of homelessness and this one visit changed my life forever. I am now gainfully employed with a steady income with food in the cupboard, back in school, and out of a bad neighborhood. AmeriCorps and CitySquare have truly changed my life in ways I could have not imagined.”

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