Youth and enthusiasm can be powerful resources when leveraged for community good. Here in the Mid-South many nonprofits are working hard to engage grade school and college students as volunteers to help power their organizations and fulfill their missions. These opportunities help our future leaders hone their leadership skills and professional expertise, and they connect our citizens, expand social influence, and help build friendships that lead to a better understanding of each other, as well. So, when we talk about the power of volunteerism, we all gain when we engage our youth.
One organization modeling the way is Impact America. The nonprofit, which is an AmeriCorps Program, engages students and recent college graduates to address community needs through four distinct initiatives that promote change while cultivating leadership. They currently work in five states, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Here in Tennessee, and more specifically in Memphis, Impact America – Tennessee has partnered with the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Rhodes College and St. Mary’s Episcopal School, and is focused on two main initiatives – FocusFirst and SaveFirst.
FocusFirst provides free, high-tech vision screenings for Head Starts, daycares, and Pre-Ks across Memphis and in Middle and East Tennessee. Their team uses a digital camera, called Spot, to conduct the screenings, which can detect problems like near- and far-sightedness and lazy eye. They served 14,000 kids in Memphis alone this fall! About 11-12% of the kids had a vision problem detected; and since the goal is for all children to start school with the best vision medically possible, those children who needed follow up care were provided it by the Southern College of Optometry.
SaveFirst provides free tax preparation services at four sites in Memphis. The tax preparation service is aimed at assisting families eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is the federal government's largest program to supplement incomes of hard-working families. Families who made up to $53,000 last year with kids in the home, or up to $20,000 last year with no kids in the home are eligible for this service. Each year, Memphis EITC recipients lose millions of dollars in commercial tax preparation fees simply to access this benefit, so SaveFirst leverages the power of volunteerism to help these families save money that then can be used to feed their families and pay bills. The initiative is primarily funded by AutoZone and the Junior League of Memphis. Last year, more than 800 families were served; and this year the goal is to help more than 1,000 families.
Learn more about Impact America – Tennessee by visiting www.ImpactAmerica.com/Tennessee.