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Mission:Ignite parlays its 20-year relationship with AmeriCorps into a full-fledged STEM Corps

Mission:Ignite, Powered by Computers for Children, has parlayed its 20-year relationship with AmeriCorps into a full-fledged STEM Corps, the first of its kind in this region.

“Mission Ignite has led the way in connecting young people from a broad range of backgrounds to technology, both for their use and as potential career paths,” said Paul Hogan, Executive Vice President of The John R. Oishei Foundation. “With this grant, the agency will be able to expand their reach and provide even more opportunities for STEM and tech careers that will benefit more young people and help to create a skilled workforce for the Buffalo Niagara region.”

Twenty-one years ago, an AmeriCorps member was placed at a new organization called Computers for Children (CFC), located on Mohawk Street in downtown Buffalo. CFC was started by a group of community volunteers with the goal of making technology more accessible to schools and students in need. The agency was on the forefront of the technology gap in schools, and the need was so great that the mission took off in an explosion of interest. An AmeriCorps member served as CFC’s first program coordinator, marking the beginning of a long and successful relationship at most every stage of the agency’s evolution.

Christine Carr-Barmasse, Mission Ignites Executive Director, reflected on the organization’s recent progress and program expansion by saying, “In 2018 Computers for Children did two things: rebranded as Mission:Ignite to match the expansion of our programs; and strategically designed the Foundations for the Future initiative to support training in career tracks and serve as a vehicle for the sustainability of Mission:Ignite.”

“The partnership with AmeriCorps will help us invest in graduating high school and college young people to provide jobs where they will receive hands-on experiential training to address real-world needs such as the technology gaps in schools, nonprofits, and education,” stated Carr-Barmasse, “By training young people in Tech and STEM career tracks they will train others and will become part of the solution as well as expand their own story.”

Mission:Ignite’s work is to enhance educational opportunities and to enrich lives through technology. “Under the leadership of Mission:Ignite, this new AmeriCorps initiative provides young people with job skills that meet the needs of today’s economy and inspires confidence in the opportunity that quality STEM jobs can be theirs,” said US Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) speaking of AmeriCorps members. 

The STEM Corps will have a significant community impact over the next three years, by enlisting 5 full-time positions and 30 part-time positions, and 30 summer members annually. The combined award is over $1.5 million; the match investment includes equipment and $472,000 in Education Awards towards college tuition for Mission Ignite STEM Corps members. 

Mission Ignite’s STEM and TECH Corps AmeriCorps program, will become one of the first of its kind in the WNY area. Young people will be trained and equipped to deliver STEM programs to students and community stakeholders, and in turn prepare them for future ‘New Collar’ careers.

Mission Ignites’ Foundations for the Future capacity building and a strategic development plan was also supported with funding from the WNY Foundation, contributing towards the computer refurbishment and repair operations and warehouse needs. Other support came from the First Niagara Foundation and Key Bank Foundation, contributing equipment and resources that can be utilized for training and deployment throughout the program. “KeyBank in partnership with the First Niagara Foundation invests in initiatives that provide access to programs that enhance career readiness and promote life-long learning,” stated Elizabeth Gurney, Executive Director of the KeyBank and First Niagara Foundations. 

Laptops

“This is very exciting news for our community accelerating STEM and Tech efforts with dedicated technology resources that will provide programming to prepare our students for the ‘New Collar’ jobs of the future,” Remarked Sam Marrazzo, Chief Innovation Officer for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Chairman of Infotech WNY.  “With this new injection of resources, Mission Ignite can expand its valued mission within our community by providing students with the right preparation and skills for the future. The program will provide critical access to technology and training programs that enable students to better prepare for higher education and workplace opportunities.”

The Ignite Your Life program will allow AmeriCorps members to provide technology and STEM training throughout Buffalo’s non-for-profit community, aimed at sparking students’ interest in high potential STEM discipline careers and arming them with the necessary skills to obtain those jobs.  

Brendan Lillis, President of Mission:Ignite powered by Computers for Children states; “Western New York has a fast-growing high tech business community.  Ensuring that our local students and recent graduates are prepared for the workplace is essential to their future and the future of Western New York. We’re very excited to provide quality apprenticeship and education opportunities for the next generation of WNY leaders in the STEM industry.  The Mission: Ignite Foundations for the Future initiative will help make the critical connection between qualified professionals and this community’s need for STEM-related jobs.” 

The goals of Ignite Your Life are to:

  • Increase the number of underrepresented youth who choose STEM careers, and close the digital divide
  • To educate young people on the benefits of technology proficiency beyond social engagement

The program will provide  training for 1,000 youth and young adults with career-focused guidance using community venues.

Over the course of the grant, approximately 200 AmeriCorps members are expected to take part in program delivery to guide students in skill development through computer labs, maker spaces, creative tools, and curriculum.

Over the course of the grant, approximately 200 AmeriCorps members are expected to take part in program delivery to guide students in skill development through computer labs, maker spaces, creative tools, and curriculum. The project has the dual benefit of expanding STEM proficiency among youth and supplying workforce experience and professional development opportunities to the people who commit to AmeriCorps service.  Ignite Your Life Corps members will also receive an education award based on the amount of time served, to help them with educational expenses including the repayment of student loans.

AmeriCorps is a Federal program and its funding awarded through the Corporation for National and Community Service, also a federal agency that helps Americans improve the lives of others through service, and the NYS Commission on National and Community Service, New Yorkers Volunteer.  To apply to have AmeriCorps member at your nonprofit agency or an AmeriCorps service position through Mission:Ignite or call Brandi Ball at 716.823.7248 x 500. 

Photos by Chris Caya/WBFO News

Written by Mark Lazzara

Mark Lazzara

I have a passion for helping my fellow Western New Yorkers and advance the great things that are going on in this region. Buffalo Rising is a great booster and it’s a blast writing and contributing to BR about positive happenings in our neck of the woods. I appreciate the help I’ve received over the years from organizations and people who share my passion and supported me in efforts that put thousands of people to work and resulted in a community give back of more than $115M to Buffalo’s neediest during my days at the helm of AmeriCorps.

I’m especially grateful for the opportunities that enabled me to help cities devastated by Hurricane Katrina and rebuild more than 700 family homes that were destroyed. Back at home, I was able to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience as a coordinator for ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where we were able to repair, beautify and upgrade homes for an entire neighborhood on Buffalo’s Westside. Other projects close to my heart include a collaboration with Sail Buffalo to build the Cazenovia Boating Center at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, and my annual Christmas season time is spent at Buffalo’s treasure, the Broadway Market, playing Santa Clause.

In my other life, I am a workforce development, business, marketing, public relations and fundraising professional. Earned a M.S. Human Service Management from Buffalo State, and enjoy my family life that includes four amazing grandchildren!

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