Commission Minutes

Public Comment : None.

Present:  Luke Shorty (Chair), F. Celeste Branham, Thomas Meuser, Jenifer Tilton-Flood, Diane Lebson, Necole Janczura, William Guindon, Becky Hayes-Boober, Pamela Proulx-Curry, Michael Williams, Julia Van Steenberghe, Jennifer Burke, Kelly Day, Will Sedlack, Susan Wiggin, Chelsey Fortin-Trimble

Sam Gilbert, Maine Service Fellow
Rob Glazier, Senior Portfolio Manager, AmeriCorps federal agency                              
Scott Adams, President, APWU Local 458 (future Commissioner)                          

Welcome, Announcements, Agenda Adjustments
Commissioners, staff, and guests introduced themselves. 

The Commission recognized Samuel Gilbert for his service as the first Maine Service Fellow. Sam shared that he learned about his community and neighboring communities and that it was nice to see people come together to help each other. In the future, he will complete a master’s degree in cybersecurity. He plans to stay involved with WindowDressers and the Sipayik Resilience Committee. He noted that future Fellows might benefit from having a program with more developed structure and planning. WindowDressers gave Sam’s group an award called “Without A Net.” He noted that there are plenty of opportunities to help Elders in the area of Pleasant Point.  

There were no additions or deletions to the consent agenda.

Consent Agenda: MOVED by Branham to approve the consent agenda. SECONDED by Hayes-Boober. Vote on the motion: In favor–Shorty, Branham, Meuser, Tilton-Flood, Lebson, Janczura, Hayes-Boober, Proulx-Curry, Williams, Van Steenberghe, Burke, Day, Sedlack, Wiggin, Fortin-Trimble. Abstention–Guindon. Opposed–none. Motion passed. 

Items approved by the motion: the Commission meeting minutes for February 16, 2024 and the report of the Executive Committee meetings for March 5th, 2024.

Planning and Future Initiatives  
A.    Maine Volunteer Foundation update
(Branham): Branham and MVF Chair John Portela met with a potential candidate for the Board. This candidate was more interested in serving on the Commission than the Foundation, though. 

Fundraising: Re-organizing financial report so MVF can track what is coming in via events. It currently has $25,000 in the bank whereas the most previously was $4,000. The Foundation is fundraising around Governor’s Service Awards, with $1,500 raised so far. The event has $7,000 worth of expenses, so the Commission withll cover some costs. There are 4 vacancies.

B. Exploring findings from the Commission strengths assessment (Shorty): This is a tool developed by ASC to help Service Commissions identify strengths and opportunities for future growth. All Commissioners and staff completed self-assessment. Then, Executive Committee had a work session to review the whole report and assess where the largest risks were. 
The first major risk is in Organizational Structure and Planning due to the transition in senior leadership. There are 2 retirements on the horizon. Also, the Commission will move to a new fiscal agent within State Government in 2025.  

The second prioritized domain: Human Capital. The Commission is struggling to maintain sufficient staffing to carry out its responsibilities. The patching together funding for the Volunteer Sector Technical Assistance/Training Officer is no longer possible. The Maine Service Fellows Coordinator funding ended and the Climate Corps Coordinator position, funded with ARP, sunsets in December. Also, the admin is only half-time and a Public Information Officer still needs to be hired.

Third domain of importance: Financial Management and Resource Development. Historically, the Commission has received in-kind match from Maine Association of Broadcasters. A financial challenge: DAFS has not paid grantees and vendors on time, thus the cash position is not clear. This last situation began in August 2023 and is particularly troubling because 1) the systems were found to work in two very recent audits; 2) some payments are over 90 days behind; and 3) Commission and Dept of Education attempts to get the issue cleared up are not getting attention.

Fourth domain: Commission Reporting and Compliance. It is a challenge to submit Federal Financial Reports in a timely fashion. Previous audits have had no findings, and our financial systems were not a risk; however, recently there has been trouble the State Government’s central accounting processes. 

Fifth domain: Subgrant Management, this was identified as a challenge by the OIG. Staff will upgrade financial oversight and continue to press for timely payment to grantees. 

C. President’s Proposed Budget: AmeriCorps Impact:  The FY2025 budget proposed by the President will decrease AmeriCorps members as a result of the recission of ARP funds and the commitment to increase the AmeriCorps living allowance to the equivalent of $13 per hour. Senior Corps programs are being cut or are flat. There was discussion that Penquis programs in Maine should expand beyond their small grants and seek AmeriCorps affiliation as a means to adapt to the new funding landscape. A proposed Congressional bill contains language that would remove prohibition on a using an Education Award if convicted of a drug-related felony. Another language provision would allow refugees and immigrants with work authorization to serve and earn an award—comparable to VISTAs current rules.  Recently, a cut to the National Service Trust released unused Education Awards that have expired. Currently, the Trust cannot move awards forward but must release unused awards to the Treasury. This is not lowering the number of AmeriCorps Education Awards. 

Focus on Mission Responsibilities
A. Commission Ambassador Reports
on program visits (Various): Chelsey Fortin-Trimble made a connection with the State Library’s new VISTA program. They recruited a photojournalist who decided to become a VISTA and is now doing great service with Maine State Library implementing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library; the program has agreements with organizations in Penobscot, Aroostook, and Oxford counties. 

Janet May met with Penquis Senior Corps program. There is a challenge with member succession as some people are turned away because they do not meet income requirements. Some people serve September-June whereas others serve year-round. Another issue: performing background checks is a cost burden for such a small group.

B. Volunteer sector training: Discussion of Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference (Meuser, Van Steenberghe): A possible theme is “Healthy Volunteers, Healthy Maine.” Currently, the conference date, location, session schedule, and keynote are still in development. Costs will likely be $25,000 for a venue and $10,000-$15,000 for catering. 

Business Reports 
A. Public Policy
(Tilton-Flood, Proulx-Curry): No recent meetings. A letter was delivered to the Legislature’s AFA committee asking to fund LD 666 and a carryover bill that would fund the Program Officer for Volunteer Initiatives. It is permanent headcount that does not have funding. Rep. Rielly is trying to create permanence for Climate Corps Coordinator position; it has 75% of its needed funding from General Fund but needs 25% of additional funding. Rep. Ankeles is helping get a funds to flip to permanent to cover this position; Maine DOE is trying to get this action in the change package. 

Federal action: No major changes in Federal budget. AmeriCorps federal agency staff in D.C. think that the budget proposed by U.S. House of Representatives will not pass and AmeriCorps will be funded. The agency is currently developing a new grants database to replace eGrants. A recent American Climate Corps presentation from The White House and AmeriCorps indicated that online resources for this venture will be live by June. 

B.  Grant Selection and Performance Task Force (Guidon): Upon reviewing member data, the task force learned that 30% of members from out-of-state stay in Maine after completing their service.  

Penobscot Nation returned their grant as the Program Director/Housing Director is being deployed by the military and there is no staff left to able to run it. Since 5 grants have been returned in this cycle (3 of them were planning grants), the Commission discussed how these returned grants are indicative of larger problems within Maine’s nonprofit sector, such as thin staff, small budgets, and operations held together by one critical person who might leave. The grants do not offer working capital upfront; organizations spend against them and then wait for reimbursement. ARP and PPP allowed staffing to stay at a certain level for a few years, but the ongoing sunsetting of these federal emergency supports funds is depleting organizations’ staff at the moment.

C. Executive Committee (Shorty): Shorty will write one more letter to Legislators in support of Climate Corps funding.

D. Communications Task Force (Lebson): There will be a special Governor’s Service Award recognizing a volunteer group that responded to the recent tragedy in Lewiston. The task force is looking for sponsors for the event; the sponsorship package is on Basecamp. Thank you to Janczura for securing the first sponsorship. MVF is taking ownership of the event and it is estimated that total costs will reach $6,000-$7,000. Corporate sponsorship will be at the $1,000 level. Sponsorships from individuals are expected to be at the $250-$500 level. 
Public Information Officer- Accepting applications through April 4. Please share with professional networks. 

E. Maine Service Fellows Advisory Task Force (Branham): The task force is making a handbook and checklist to provide direction to future Service Fellows. It is also waiting to see what the Legislature’s supplemental budget will do regarding MSF. 

NOAA Climate Challenge Grant: prepared a budget and narrative submitted to the State. If received, the program could start in October with funds to hire a Director for 5 years and recruit 5 Service Fellows for 4 years. Grant is led by GOPIF. 

James Fagan began serving in Dover-Foxcroft as a Maine Service Fellow.

F. Climate Corps Task Force (Sedlack): The task force will meet next week to review three new applications for funding.

G. DEI Task Force (Branham): The task force is developing initiatives for future review by the Commission.

H. Excellence and Expertise Task Force (Van Steenberghe): The task force has not had a full meeting this month. When Ashmore returns from vacation, E and E will resume its previous schedule.

I. AmeriCorps federal agency update (Glazier): The regional office will be undergoing staff turnover in the near future. Many positions were ARP funded. Recruitment and Grant Monitoring staff will see cuts in 2025. First cohort of NCCC Forest Corps members starting this summer. Public Health AmeriCorps and ARP funded positions will be cut. 

J. Commission Staff Reports (Various staff): Reports have been posted. Staff are dealing with disallowance with a closed grant, LearningWorks. It took some time to resolve a test of improper payments. Significant re-payment will be due. Evidence of background checks was lost in the transition between E. D.s and Program Directors. Currently, estimates of stipend disallowance are being made. LearningWorks still exists but is now smaller and with a different staff team.

Grantees must be made to comply with recordkeeping practices regarding member and grant data in order to prevent similar crises in the future. Current grantees take training every year on record retention. 

There must be a positive promotion of AmeriCorps despite financial challenges. 

Two RFAs are open: Standard and Rural Grant. Applications close on April 11th, 2024.  A planning grant will go out later. The Commission is looking for peer reviewers in the community. 
AmeriCorps Celebration scheduled for June. 

Business Wrap-Up (Shorty):  The meeting was adjourned at 12:51 p.m.