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STATE GRANT ALLOWS AMERICORPS TO BOUNCE BACK

It was on the verge of shutting down a year ago, and today, the West Seneca AmeriCorps is back, says Executive Director Mark Lazzara.

"It feels good to have the ability to continue to allow young people to serve," he said.

AmeriCorps will receive a $411,063 grant to allow at-risk youths to build houses for YouthBuild with Habitat for Humanity, stock the Western New York Food Bank and serve meals at the Response to Love Center in Buffalo.

The New York State Commission on National and Community Service and the New York Office of Children and Families announced the grant this week.

It will enable AmeriCorps to create more than 50 full- and part-time jobs.

"They'll be delivering food to food pantries and cleaning vacant lots," Lazzara said.

West Seneca AmeriCorps was down to a skeleton crew after congressional funding for the program dried up last year. There were four people serving in the YouthBuild program and eight delivering food, Lazzara said.

"We've continued everything at a smaller level," he said.

When the program was at full strength in 2002, there were about 70 young people building houses, cleaning lots and working in the hunger program, he said.

West Seneca AmeriCorps received another grant in June for $1.1 million, allowing it to rebuild its tutoring program. Most of the tutors were college students or college graduates, and about 40 percent were certified teachers.

With the grant this week targeting at-risk youth, Lazzara said: "I feel today, we're back."

Lazzara and Sister Johnice Rzadkiewicz, the founder of Response to Love Center, spent many hours last year lobbying to have funding restored.

"All that work last year culminated in the ability to get funding," Lazzara said. AmeriCorps volunteers serve 1,700 hours in exchange for a $9,000 stipend for living expenses, and at the end of their service receive $4,725 in grants toward higher education

Those interested in a position may call 558-3330.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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