Three Cheers for the Volunteers

And one big raspberry for the supervisors who allowed Dade's AmeriCorps to go down the tubes

Bruce Cline of the national AmeriCorps program doesn't think United Way of Dade should get off so lightly. "It's problematic that they're divorcing themselves from the poor performing sites that they have legal responsibility for," he says with some irritation. "Their responsibility extends to ensuring that results were achieved in the different program areas."

But in one key respect, the AmeriCorps Dade project is having the lasting impact its leaders originally hoped for -- although not quite in the way they envisioned. As just one of eleven AmeriCorps programs around the nation to be denied renewal, the program's failures have prompted a rethinking at the state and the federal levels about how AmeriCorps should operate. Inspired in part by the disappointing experience of AmeriCorps Dade, Bruce Cline says, "We're going to look out for [i.e., avoid] organizations that have a hands-off approach to actual activities." And Chris Gilmore of the Florida Commission has developed a laundry list of reforms based on AmeriCorps Dade's shortcomings. "We're going to make sure there's a strong implementation plan and a supervision structure that can follow up," he says, also blaming his own commission for encouraging the coalition of Dade County agencies that wanted to submit such an unwieldy AmeriCorps proposal in the first place.

Bureaucratic blame aside, perhaps the most pernicious fallout from the failures of AmeriCorps Dade will come in the form of reinforced cynicism and hopelessness among those the programs were supposed to help. As the Rev. Keith Akins, field coordinator at the Scott and Carver homes, points out, "People get tired of seeing programs come and go. They put their trust in them, and then they leave. And some people just get their pockets fat with grants.

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