Commission Minutes

Public Comment Period --started at 10:04am

  • Hayli Hu Kinney – LearningWorks Program Coordinator, provided a programming update on AIMS HIGH and thanked the Commission for assistance during OIG review
  • Ray Estabrook – Director, Maine Youth Alliance provided a programming update on I Know Me AmeriCorps
  • Kristina Cannon – Director, Maine Street Skowhegan provided a programming update on AC Outdoor Adventure Progam

Call to Order      Branham @ 10:17am

Welcome, Announcements, Agenda Adjustments  
1. Introductions 
Present: Celeste Branham, Zakk Maher, Jenni Titon-Flood, Ed Barrett, Luke Shorty, Rob Meinders, Pam Proulx-Curry, Stacie Haines, Susan Cheeseman (CNCS), Nate Rudy, Jess Nixon (MDOE), Sue Asselin Hawthorne, Jonathan Barczyk, Matt L’Italien, Lisa Phelps, Ryan Almy   
Staff: M Ashmore, M Crofton, J McFaul, B. Roche

2. Quiz Answer 
Topic: Service Fellows legislation 
Winners: E. Barret, L. Phelps & S. A-Hawthorn, Z. Maher, P. Proulx Curry

3. Announcements and Appreciations 
Branham announced appointment of the Chair for Excellence and Expertise. Sue Asselin-Hawthorne will serve.

4. Additions, Deletions, Changes to Agenda. None offered.

5. Motion to approve the agenda including consent agenda  
Motion L. Shorty 
Second: N. Rudy 
Roll call:             Yea – Unanimous             Nay – 0                 Abstentions – 0

Consent Agenda  
A. Minutes  
Business Meeting. Moved that the minutes of the Commission meeting on October 16, 2020 be approved. 
Executive Committee. Moved that the report of the Executive Committee meetings for November 3 and December 3 be accepted. 
Communications Task Force. Moved that the report of Communications Task Force meeting for November 18 be accepted.           
Objections/Corrections: None 
Agenda and minutes approved 

Focus on Mission Responsibilities  
A. Report of public comments submitted regarding proposed funding priorities.  
Proposed set from October 2020 meeting:

  • Public Health – including substance use and mental health;
  • Workforce development – including green jobs and climate crisis/action;
  • Housing – affordable and safe housing; and,
  • Environmental/community sustainability which would encompass emergency preparedness and aspects of transportation.

Branham shared submitted comments that are summarized below:

  • While these are important, Education is critically important. Should be incorporated in all priorities
  • Be aware that Aging in Place is [should be] included in Public Health
  • What happened to Food Security?  This is a basic need
  • Transportation is important & mental health; glad they are included
  • System is unresponsive to rural needs
  • Flowers on hiking trails

Branham noted that specific request was made to include Education as a priority or within priorities.  Food security as well as aging-in-place issues would fit under funding priorities. Discussion among members ensued. It was felt that education would fit under workforce development and that food security should be called out under Public Health in the same way mental health and substance use have been mentioned. The members were reminded that these would apply only to funding over which the Commission has final award authority. Another point made was the need to ensure civic engagement continues to be emphasized as a priority regardless of grant type. Civic education is critical.

Two final comments reminded members that, at least in AmeriCorps grants, volunteer generation and sustainability are selection criteria and a large VISTA project focused on ending hunger has just been launched at the Dept of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. The concern about rural responsiveness was noted. In some cases, it has not been possible to assist because the beneficiaries would be for-profit and federal law prohibits AmeriCorps from assisting for-profit entities.  

Motion to Accept proposed Priorities as with additions as described; inclusion of Education as a sub-priority under workforce development and Hunger under public health.  
Motion: M. L’Italian  
Second: N. Rudy  
Roll call:               Yea – Unanimous             Nay – 0                 Abstentions – 0

B. Inspector General Audit.  
Branham reported that the final draft of findings was issued in early December and the Commission response submitted ten days later. There are two criticisms of the Commission: one related to reviewing staff financial monitoring findings and one related to training grantees about documentation of in-kind. The response letter proposed a second staff person would review financial monitoring and, for training, that grantees would be required to complete the CNCS online training annually in the same manner they are required to complete another course annually. The Maine response also incorporated LearningWorks’ response to a finding that questioned costs. In response to a question, the next steps were outlined. These will take at least six months more.

C. Maine Service Fellows legislative proposal  
After learning about a COVID recovery corps in New Hampshire and participating in the final Maine Service Fellows design workshop, Rep. Morgan Riley submitted title and bill draft to revisors office to establish MSF.  He asked Crofton to participate in an information session on Monday where he will brief potential sponsors. Haines will join as the Commission member. A member asked what is available for current students given this program will be for recent grads.  Commission staff noted that MC and MA noted that while it is not currently available in Maine, there are many campus-based AmeriCorps programs nationally.

D. Commission assignment in the Maine climate action report     Branham, Crofton  
The Maine Climate Council report names Volunteer Maine as responsible for developing a climate corps. This is not unexpected because staff had been communicating with various people over the rumored interest in such a corps. Commissioners can find the text onpage 100 of Maine Won’t Wait.  VM staff has met with Governor’s staff and shared current congruent programming and what opportunities currently exist for immediate deployment rather than starting with a new program/application. Conversation included possibilities available with Maine Campus Compact, and possibly Maine Conservation Corps. GPCOG was also mentioned in the discussion. The assignment is most likely to be taken on by Executive Committee.

Business Reports  
A. Grant Selection and Performance  
Barrett reported the peer reviewers and task force have devoted considerable time to reviewing new and continuation proposals that have to be forwarded with recommendations to CNCS. Compiled reports to the board were published with the agenda.

1. Action on application for AmeriCorps continuation funding.  
MOVE that the LearningWorks Aim High program be recommended for year 3 funding of the 3-year grant at the requested level of $283,826 Federal Share, to be matched by at least $365,348 in local funds, supporting 19.93-member service years distributed over 52 slots with the stipulation that corrections and clarifications described in the report from reviewers are addressed before the federal submission deadline. The proposed cost per member service year is $14,365.  
Motion: P. Proulx-Curry  
Second: J. Barczyk  
Discussion centered on whether required changes were made. Barrett reported all issues were addressed.  The corrections were submitted to the task force and issues were either corrected, adjusted or addressed to the satisfaction of the Task force.  
Roll call:         Yea – Unanimous             Nay – 0                 Abstentions – 0

2. Action on application for new AmeriCorps awards  
a) MOVE that the Maine Conservation Corps’ AmeriCorps proposal for a 3-year fixed amount grant be forwarded to the national competition with full Commission support for the first-year funding request of $ 674,820 Federal Share supporting 41.4-member service years distributed over 88 slots with the stipulation that corrections and clarifications described in the report from reviewers are addressed before the federal submission deadline. The proposed cost per member service year is $16,300.  
Motion: E. Barrett  
Second: L. Shorty  
Roll call:         Yea – Unanimous             Nay – 0                 Abstentions – 0

b) MOVE that Healthy Acadia’s Maine RecoveryCorps proposal for a 3-year fixed amount grant be forwarded to the national competition with full Commission support for the first-year funding request of $356,318 Federal Share supporting 21.86 member service years distributed over 30 slots with the stipulation that corrections and clarifications described in the report from reviewers are addressed before the federal submission deadline. The proposed cost per member service year is $16,300.  
Motion: E. Barrett 
Second: P. Proulx-Curry 
In discussion, members continue to be concerned about slot fill rate under current grant. 
Roll call:         Yea – Unanimous             Nay – 0                 Abstentions – 0

3. Peer Reviewer appreciation 
MOVE that there be an expression of appreciation for the work of the Peer Reviewers 
Motion: E. Barrett 
Second: N. Rudy 
Roll call:         Yea – Unanimous             Nay        Abstentions

4. Grantee withdrawal from project. Barrett noted withdrawal of Rural Grantee. Seeds of Hope is not applying for 3rd year of initial cycle. The agency board determined the administrative burden was simply too high.

5. Other. Barrett informed Commissioners that an application for funding was submitted by the Kennebec Climate Initiative but did not make it out of peer review. Commission staff will connect to provide feedback.

B. National Public Policy issues  
1. ASC developed and submitted a policy priority letter to the Biden Transition Team.  
2. CNCS has extended the waiver of grantee share (match) rates through FY2021.  
3. The CORPS Act and other national service bills will see no further action. Several had such broad support it is expected they will be reintroduced.  
4. Current appropriations bill is said to have some expansion funding for AmeriCorps, the agency. The pandemic relief bill and 2021 appropriations are intertwined with action expected this weekend.

C. Communications Task Force (Tilton-Flood)  
1. Update on education award legislation exploration. The task force reported it was not able to finish work on time to meet the cloture deadline so the issue will have to wait.  

2. New website project report. The creation of a new web presence and merger of both legacy sites into the new one has taken a year but is now done. The new address is and the site is part of state government system. Bryan was congratulated for his role in managing the project and spending significant hours setting it up. Because the launch was within the last 72 hours, it is expected some items need further attention. There is a feedback form in the footer of each page for commissioners and public to provide ongoing input.  Roche recognized the following individuals for support during the transition process:  Megan Rand & Alexandra McKeown from InforME; Patrick Williams, Acting Director, Maine IT; Victor Chakravart & Jason Tourtelotte, OIT Enterprise Architecture Team; Communications Task Force members, past and present; Nathan McIvor, Summer 2020 Public Affairs Intern; Beverly Ludden and members of the Volunteer Maine staff.  

3. PBS American Portrait - Maine contribution.  National PBS is taking its storytelling project and making it a series. The show is built around first person stories. In November, Roche was asked to help them identify stories about volunteerism in Maine.  He was able to connect the producers to 25 community volunteers and national service members and get 7 stories placed (so far). The stories that did not make the national cut can be leads for our public awareness efforts in early 2021.

D. Financial Oversight  
Shorty reiterated a concern about future match expressed at last meeting. Match waiver for 2021 gives the Commission needed time to diversify in-kind sources.  The recent State appropriations were curtailed after one year of full funding - $6000 followed by two rounds of 10% reductions.  This is significant, but Commission should recognize state interest in supporting the Commission is new and welcome. The pandemic funding efforts in government continues to impact the ability of Commission staff to get current financial reporting from financial staff – additional extensive reporting on relief funds has limited departmental capacity. Grants are monitored individually so spending is within each unit but the overall picture is hard to compile.

Shorty reminded new Commissioners he will provide the orientation to Commission finances on January 15, 2021 as part of New Commissioner Orientation. Anyone who wants a refresher is welcome.

E. Excellence and Expertise  
Asselin-Hawthorne noted the task force had been dormant and is just starting to meet. The first meeting was involved in describing current initiatives and upcoming meeting will a dive into the role E & E plays in moving strategic initiatives forward.

F. Volunteer Maine Staff  
1. Progress on filling staff vacancies. Kelsey Preeks has accepted the position of Program Officer for Volunteer Sector Initiatives. She arrives from Alaska on January 4.  Crofton recognized and thanked Celeste Branham and Jessica Nixon for interviewing the Office Administrator candidates. There were no viable candidates so the position will be reposted. Staff will muddle through.

2. Update on Maine Ready integration of medical database. Ashmore reported on status of transition for Maine Response Corps to the Maine Ready Platform occurring this month

3. Renewal of Masonic Charitable Foundation partnership. Foundation has expressed interest in focus on youth service and has interest in developing a mini grant program targeted on Global Youth Service Day in April.  Provides new opportunity to move a Commission interest forward that has had little financial support in recent years.

G. CNCS Update  
Cheesman reported her office is working on AmeriCorps Senior Augmentation Grants.  Other New England states also making decisions regarding forwarding AmeriCorps proposals to national competition.  Maine Hunger Initiative Vista project hired staff and is recruiting for January member starts – possibly also connecting with NCCC to move project forward. 

H. Report from Maine Volunteer Foundation.    
No Report

Planning and Future Initiatives  
A.  No items this month.              

Business Wrap Up  
The third session of New Commissioner Orientation, January 15, 2020 at 9am.  

A reminder that the next meeting February 19 at 10 am. There will not be a January board meeting since the grant business was moved to this December meeting.

Meeting adjourned at 12:35 pm.