By Laura Brown
Triplicate staff writer
AmeriCorps services in Del Norte County may soon be eliminated due to federal cutbacks.
Several programs are at risk, including those that restore streams, help people learn to read and help students who are having a difficult time at school.
"I think it will be a tragic thing for the community," said AmeriCorps member Sarah Vanderhoofven, 19, who spent the last year working with preschoolers in the county library's travelling literacy program ¬ó the Wonderbus.
She said schools already feeling the pinch from teacher layoffs will be delivered another blow if the AmeriCorps program is discontinued.
News of possible cutbacks spread last week after memos from the program's parent agency warned of the trouble ahead.
Accounting discrepencies, a new cap on enrollment and congressional budget reductions will mean a drastic dismantling of services nationwide. Funding is expected to be cut by 50 to 90 percent. In California, programs will drop from the current 60 to 12.
That spells bad news for Del Norte County, where subprograms such as YouthServe AmeriCorps and the Watershed Stewards Project may be eliminated.
"The word on the street is that there would be no AmeriCorps programs on the North Coast," said David Boyd, center director for California Conservation Corps in Klamath.
Despite President Bush voicing support for an expanded program, budget difficulties are forcing the available positions nationwide to drop nearly 50 percent ¬ó from 60,000 last year to 36,000.
AmeriCorps members provide up to 1,700 community-service hours for about 10 months in exchange for modest incomes and college scholarships up to $4,700. They can serve two terms.
It is still uncertain exactly how this northern corner of California will be impacted, but organizers are preparing for the worst.
"I was just told to cease preparing for next year until we hear more," said Dale Condon, supervisor of the local YouthServe AmeriCorps program.
A proposed project that would have linked AmeriCorps tutors and mentors with students at risk of becoming high-school dropouts will have to be put on the back burner for now.
Boyd estimates cuts of 12 to 15 AmeriCorps positions plus 15 to 20 YouthServe Corps positions. In addition, two people involved in the Watershed Stewards Project in Klamath may be cut. Last year, their tributary enhancement work saved the lives of hundreds of fish escaping lethally warm Klamath River water.
Boyd said that even if a few programs can be salvaged, it is unlikely there will be enough funding to keep all AmeriCorps programs running in Del Norte.
The worst scenario would be a total loss of AmeriCorps funds, he said.
Even if operations were shut down only temporarily, partnerships would be lost and it would be difficult to get things off the ground again, AmeriCorps coordinators say.