Six years ago, I began working as Executive Director of the Porter County Museum (or PoCo Muse, as it’s affectionately known).
I don’t remember many early conversations with Emily Royer about AmeriCorps or the Central Stories Project. The project was ambitious, yet feasible. The only drawback was that I was a staff of one slowly drowning in the minutiae of day-to-day operations. Luckily for me, I wholeheartedly agreed to host Emily and Jake.
My ever-growing to-do list created a rocky start supervising their work with the Central Stories Project. Being the only museum employee, I hesitated to delegate. Jake and Emily still joke that for the first several months, I never even invited them to museum activities.
The moment they approached me about getting more involved with operating the museum, something truly beautiful began. A weekly after-hours focus session quickly grew into our newly-named task force: Team PoCo. This soon led to talking, planning and making actual change within the museum.
Emily and Jake’s interdisciplinary, non-museum backgrounds and can-do attitude reshaped the way we approached our work. For the first time in our near-century of existence, we emphasized meaningful storytelling, thanks to the groundwork laid by the Central Stories Project. The Porter County Museum was taking the first successful steps from a volunteer-driven organization into a professionally run institution.
Any group can collaborate with AmeriCorps under the right circumstances. If you’re interested in working with them, here are some useful tips:
- Establish a relationship with your local United Way. AmeriCorps is one of many programs managed by United Way. A simple conversation can yield a lot.
- Understand the grant cycle and its purpose. Federal grants making AmeriCorps possible operate under a three-year cycle. The grant supporting Jake and Emily’s first year of AmeriCorps was in the third year of its cycle. A different type of grant, emphasizing volunteer recruitment during their second and final year, funded the next rotation.
- There are limitations. AmeriCorps Service members can only serve two full-time years in the program. In addition, most sites can’t have more than two full-time service members.
- AmeriCorps Service members are not employees. People who enroll in the program are serving our country. Members at your site are fulfilling grant specifications, not filling your coffee cup.
- An AmeriCorps host site has obligations. For instance, the host site must contribute a portion of the living stipend. Other obligations vary by program, so it’s best to discuss this information with the program director or find them here.
My experience with AmeriCorps has not only changed this museum in many ways, it’s changed me, too. No matter how long I serve as Executive Director of the PoCo Muse, I’ll always look back on the AmeriCorps partnership as the best years of my career. I urge you to begin your partnership today.
Kevin Matthew Pazour is the Executive Director of the Porter County Museum in Valparaiso, Indiana. For the last six years, Kevin has worked to improve every aspect of the museum now known as PoCo Muse. Kevin graduated from Wabash College in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and an innate fascination with the museum fundraising process.