The world has the Peace Corps, the United States has AmeriCorps, and the greater Galesburg community now has KnoxCorps.
This local civic-engagement partnership -- launched in 2012 as an initiative of President Teresa Amott in cooperation with the Galesburg Community Foundation -- matches recent Knox graduates and current students with local non-profit organizations to support existing projects, build new programs, and help meet the critical needs of the community.
"Knox and Galesburg celebrated their 175th anniversary in 2012, and the establishment of KnoxCorps was a perfect way for us to honor that milestone," said President Teresa Amott. "Galesburg has been our partner since 1837, and it seems only fitting that our graduates should now serve our community."
Like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, KnoxCorps is meant to be mutually beneficial -- the organizations and the community get extra hands, a boost of energy, and new programs from Knox students and recent graduates, while the program participants gain valuable work experience and greater understanding of the Galesburg community and its successes and challenges. Likewise, the program bridges gaps, both perceived and actual, between the campus community and greater Galesburg.
"The goal of KnoxCorps is to provide opportunities for Knox graduates to remain in Galesburg, which has been their home for four years, and to put their talents and skills to use in the local community," added President Amott.
In its first year, six recent graduates received 10-month stipends to serve as KnoxCorps Fellows, while undergraduate students made two-year commitments to serve as KnoxCorps Associates, working a minimum of eight hours a week. The program was made possible in its first year by six community sponsors, including F&M Bank, Galesburg Community Foundation, Human Links Foundation, Kleine Equipment, Knox County Health Department, and the We Are Galesburg Fund.
In addition to putting in hours at their assigned non-profit organization, the inaugural group of KnoxCorps Fellows and Associates met regularly to share their experiences, help build and enhance the framework of the fledgling program, and work on collaborative projects that unite multiple non-profits working toward common goals. Such projects included a youth empowerment program and a plan to enhance Galesburg's image and available resources for travelers near the Amtrak depot.
"To say that I've been inspired by our KnoxCorps Fellows and Associates is an understatement," said President Amott. "Watching each of our participants grow as an individual and make transformative contributions to the Galesburg area has been one of the highlights of my time at Knox. I look forward to seeing the program-and our participants-continue to evolve."
To learn more about KnoxCorps' impact on the community and its participants, meet the first class of KnoxCorps Fellows.
Elizabeth Cockrell '12
KnoxCorps placement: Human Links
Foundation Fellow at the Sustainable Business Center
Hometown: Jacksonville, Illinois
At Knox: Environmental Studies major, Green Oaks prairie burn crew, Knox Prairie Community Kitchen volunteer, KARES treasurer, Food over Food Cultural and Literary Society, Knox Food Coalition, Carl Sandburg College Literacy Coalition, Environmental Studies Red Room Tutor, Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Epsilon Economics Honor Society
After KnoxCorps: AmeriCorps position with the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation District in northern Minnesota; plans to pursue a career in natural resources focusing on ecological restoration
A Focus on Local Food
Elizabeth Cockrell had her first real taste of the Galesburg community while taking a course on sustainable food systems during her senior year. As part of that class, Cockrell helped create an organization, Growing Galesburg, to promote the Galesburg Farmers Market and highlight local agriculture. She and her classmates created videos featuring area farmers and other players in the local food system.
"I wasn't prepared for the wealth of knowledge and passion we found during filming," said Cockrell, who majored in environmental studies.
So when the opportunity arose to continue her involvement in the community and in building local food systems, Cockrell signed on to stay in Galesburg another year as a KnoxCorps Fellow working for the Sustainable Business Center (SBC), where she also interned as an undergraduate.
Cockrell's responsibilities included research, outreach, and education at the SBC, which is a business incubator designed to kickstart innovative, green companies in the Galesburg area.
"Illinois lacks much of the infrastructure needed for a thriving local food system," said Cockrell, who worked to improve that infrastructure and awareness of the issues by networking with food organizations, interviewing local farmers, attending regional food meetings, and diving head first into the highly regulated food system.
"I haven't scratched the surface, but all the information I've collected will benefit the farmers interested in starting a food hub in the future," Cockrell said.
Cockrell also organized community workshops on weatherization, nutrition, and alternative energy and worked with the Galesburg Public Library to launch a food book club. She credits the "sustainability revolution" she underwent at Knox for her passion for improving the local food movement.
"KnoxCorps has increased the amount of communication and collaboration between organizations in Galesburg, and I think this has the potential to open up a wide array of opportunities within the community," she said.
Isaac Miller '12
KnoxCorps placement: Galesburg Community Foundation Fellow at Prairie Players Civic Theatre
Hometown: New York, New York
At Knox: Creative writing major, theatre minor, Knox College Improv Club, New Plays Festival
After KnoxCorps: Pursuing acting with plans to teach youth improv workshops
Breaking through the Bubble
For four years at Knox College, Isaac Miller was on stage. Then, suddenly, as a KnoxCorps Fellow matched with Prairie Players Civic Theatre, he was behind the scenes.
"It's been very helpful and enlightening," said Miller, who majored in creative writing, minored in theatre, and was active in numerous productions at Knox. "I knew that roles would slow down out of college. I had to develop skills that would help me market myself in other ways."
Miller's day-to-day work with the community theatre organization in its downtown headquarters involved checking e-mail, answering phones, taking reservations, making presentations, assisting with productions, and writing grants and funding proposals.
"Though my theatre work at Knox was almost exclusively onstage, the closest to the stage I got with Prairie Players was assistant costume designing for their production of Willy Wonka," he said.
Being used to acting or plugging away at a piece of writing and getting constant feedback from directors and professors, working in the Prairie Players office -- and most often on his own -- was a new and enlightening experience. That chance to expand his horizons was exactly why he applied for the opportunity.
"I was interested in KnoxCorps because I wanted my last year in Galesburg to be expansive," Miller said. "I went through Knox firmly ensconced in the bubble. I knew KnoxCorps would force me to engage with Galesburg in ways I hadn't even thought of."
One major way the aspiring actor and playwright broke through the bubble was through a self-designed project -- an improv workshop for area youth. He offered one during the winter and was pleased with the turnout of a small, fun, and enthusiastic group of kids ages 9 to 12. The first workshop was successful enough to warrant a second in the spring.
Gathering that group of children added another line of experience to Miller's theatre résumé and offered something new to the community. But it also gave Miller a new view on what KnoxCorps is all about.
"Their excitement and energy has given me a visceral attachment to community building and confirmed my faith in KnoxCorps," he said.
Now, Miller's future plans include continuing to teach improv workshops wherever his acting and writing career leads him. "They all took to improv and had such fun. I got a little high five at the end of the session that might've sealed my fate," he said.
Emma Poland '12
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia
At Knox: Neuroscience major, dance minor, Delta Delta Delta, Terpischore Dance Collective, Knox Alumni Ambassador, Mortar Board, Dance Squad, Back & to the Left Productions
KnoxCorps placement: Knox County Health Department Fellow
After KnoxCorps: Another year as a KnoxCorps Fellow at the Knox County Health Department, followed by graduate school in nursing
Public Service to Improve Public Health
Emma Poland chose Knox College because she wanted to get away from the East Coast.
She chose to study neuroscience because she was fascinated by its interdisciplinarity.
And she chose to stay in Galesburg after graduation because she wanted to be an active member of a community.
That's how the Arlington, Virginia, native ended up spending the past year winding through the streets of Galesburg and rural roads of Knox County serving as an advocate for public health.
"The things I've been able to do my first year out of school here, I never would have been able to do back home," Poland said.
During her first year with KnoxCorps, Poland worked fulltime at the Knox County Health Department as a Fellow and as a health department employee, helping to administer the organization's We Choose Health grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The grant seeks to promote safe and healthy communities in rural areas, and Poland was hired to serve as the site specialist for Knox County. Working with other site specialists in Mason, Fulton, and McDonough counties, Poland has helped facilitate policy changes to make the communities healthier, venturing to all corners of Galesburg and past Galesburg city limits into smaller communities in the area, to present workshops and serve as an advocate for various health initiatives.
The other end of her experience in public health has been in a clinical setting, which has reaffirmed her desire to pursue a graduate degree and career in nursing. At the health department, she assisted with the implementation of an electronic records system, helped with eligibility and intake for patients, and registered eligible patients to receive prescription assistance.
"Arlington was fairly affluent, so it never really hit me until I worked for the health department what rural Illinois or rural Virginia could be like," Poland said. "I really enjoy being able to do my part to improve rural public health."
Poland is returning for another year at the Knox County Health Department to work on the grant and to again be a KnoxCorps Fellow. She said she looks forward to the KnoxCorps program being a well-recognized fixture in the Galesburg community and sees an opportunity for Fellows from different disciplines working at different non-profits to come together and work on common projects.
"It's the first year and there will always be kinks to work out, but it has become pretty apparent that KnoxCorps can take root and truly help the community," Poland said.
Juliette Campbell '12
KnoxCorps placement: F&M Bank Fellow at Discovery Depot Children's Museum
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
At Knox: Spanish and political science major, Model UN, intramural baseball and basketball, Catch translations editor, WVKC, Spanish Club, Carl Sandburg College Literacy Coalition
After KnoxCorps: Pursuing an M.A. in Spanish at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
From the moment Juliette Campbell set foot on the Knox campus as a first-year student from Tacoma, Washington, she was taking steps into the Galesburg community.
"Unlike a lot of people at Knox, I feel like I connected early on with Galesburg residents, community life, and volunteer activities," Campbell said. "In my time here I've enjoyed making friends with residents and just getting to know people that I may never see again or that I often see walking down the street."
As a KnoxCorps Fellow working at Discovery Depot Children's Museum after graduating with dual degrees in Spanish and political science, Campbell got to see a different side of Galesburg.
"Most of my time in Galesburg, I was working with adults," Campbell said. "But KnoxCorps really connected me to the younger generations."
In her time at Discovery Depot, Campbell implemented and taught programs for preschoolers, played a leading role in offering educational programs for homeschooling families, assisted with various special events and programs, researched and wrote grant applications, and helped with fundraising and the museum's capital campaign.
Hannah Benning '12
Hometown: Island Lake, Illinois
At Knox: Creative writing major, philosophy minor, Catch editor, co-founder of Poetry Club, Reading Buddy, CASA volunteer, teaching assistant for poetry and literature classes
KnoxCorps Placement: We Are Galesburg Fund Fellow at the Galesburg Community Foundation and KnoxCorps
After KnoxCorps: Plans to pursue library work, GED instruction, and launch a creative writing tutoring program for young students
Building Programs to Build Community
With a major, a minor, creative work, and healthy involvement in extracurricular activities, it can be hard to squeeze a lot of volunteer work and community involvement into the rigors of undergraduate life. That's why Hannah Benning jumped at the chance to be among the inaugural group of KnoxCorps Fellows.
"I really wanted to give back to Galesburg because I lived here for four years, and I did not have the time to do many volunteer activities when I was a student," said Benning, a creative writing major and philosophy minor from Island Lake, Illinois.
In a dual appointment to the Galesburg Community Foundation and KnoxCorps itself, Benning applied the writing, editing, and detail-oriented skills she honed as editor of Catch for two years to help build the framework for the program's initial year. Benning edited and wrote organizational communications, organized and led KnoxCorps meetings, assisted with a large-scale peer-study of community foundations, and helped articulate the fledgling program's mission to participants and community members. Benning used her talents at the Galesburg Community Foundation to write and edit content, produce blog entries, assist with a major website overhaul, and co-author grants for a youth empowerment program and for another KnoxCorps fellowship.
"I have more of a sense of the different organizations and businesses in town. Working with the KnoxCorps program has been enlightening and inspiring," she said.
Jules Ohman '12
KnoxCorps placement: Kleine Equipment Inc. Fellow at the Galesburg Chamber of Commerce
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
At Knox: Creative writing major, anthropology and sociology minor, Catch fiction editor
After KnoxCorps: Pursuing M.F.A. in fiction writing at the University of Montana.
A Creative Mind in a Business Environment
As the KnoxCorps Fellow at the Galesburg Chamber of Commerce, Jules Ohman used her attention to detail and powers of narration to offer a fresh spin and younger perspective on local businesses and the Chamber's mission.
And as a graduate of Knox's creative writing program now headed off to pursue an M.F.A. in fiction writing, she'll take her business experience from the Chamber of Commerce with her to the University of Montana.
"The structure of the office environment has taught me discipline," she said. "I've learned how to sit down and give myself time to do the job."
At the Chamber, Ohman worked to build a stronger social media presence, compiled weekly and monthly newsletters, wrote copy and gathered photographs for a new website, promoted Chamber events, and profiled local businesses to be featured in Chamber communications, including a new blog she started.
In addition, Ohman collaborated with other KnoxCorps participants on the very beginning stages of a project they call Off the Tracks, which is meant to enhance Galesburg's appearance near the Amtrak station, as well as provide services for travelers including shared bikes and luggage storage, and co-wrote a grant to benefit KnoxCorps for the following year.
"The program has accomplished some fairly remarkable things, namely bringing together organizations that would not normally work together and giving Knox a kinder image in the community," Ohman said. "More important, Knox students and alumni have learned more about Galesburg and the people who make their lives here. That's been the most important aspect for me."