News & Events

Creating capacity: GPLC and Compass AmeriCorps

Mar 15, 2015 : Articles

For over 20 years, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council has helped to increase the capacity of local organizations through its affiliation with the national AmeriCorps program. Currently, we operate Compass AmeriCorps, which is dedicated to providing an interconnected web of support for refugees and immigrants.

When a refugee or immigrant arrives in our city, they have a lot to do. They need to learn their way around our city. They need to learn how to access medical care and enroll their children in school. Gaining English skills and preparing for employment is vital to creating a successful life. In short, these families require much support and may need to rely on multiple agencies to establish a foothold in their new city.

In 2009, the Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council (a conglomerate of these social service agencies) approached Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council with an idea that would change the way they help immigrants and refugees in the city. They sought to establish an AmeriCorps program that focused solely on international populations to boost capacity and increase coordination and intensity of service.  Since GPLC had been managing the Literacy*AmeriCorps Pittsburgh program for over 15 years, the advisory council knew our agency had what it took to create and run a program like this. From this seed grew Compass AmeriCorps, an annual 11-month service experience that provides English language instruction and social services support for immigrants, refugees and internationals in the city of Pittsburgh. 

AmeriCorps is a national service organization, founded in 1994, that offers adults the opportunity to give back to their communities for a period of time at local non-profits. AmeriCorps members receive a modest living stipend, health care, and an education award that can be used to pay off student loans or go back to school. However, these tangible benefits are second to the intangible ones: personal and professional development, building a lifelong ethic of service, forming bonds with their team, and assisting those in need. 

By placing 24 Compass AmeriCorps members at a variety of service sites, including Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, the Squirrel Hill Health Center, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Goodwill and more, GPLC forms a web that better serves the international community. A refugee may receive cultural orientation from one member and health care information from another (all while taking English classes from a third member). Through their service, members increase the capacity of these agencies to serve the community, providing more intense and individualized attention to the clients. Finally, the members support one another as part of the team-based program, collaborating often to share resources, reflect on their experience, receive training, and perform community service projects.

Pittsburgh is a large city with an ever-growing international population. Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council’s Compass AmeriCorps program turns this big city of services into an interconnected family of support.

-- Julie Walker, AmeriCorps Program Manager

Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny County. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 4,500 individuals acquire reading, writing, math, English language, computer and workforce skills so they may reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, English as a second language, basic skills, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction, along with referrals to other family support organizations. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Center.