California’s investment in students’ health and well-being got a boost from the federal government at the end of June when AmeriCorps announced it would dispatch dozens of public health volunteers to schools and communities, according to an EdSource report.

Five California organizations, including several that work in schools, are part of the first wave of a new AmeriCorps grant program intended to boost public health among children and families, particularly those who have been hard hit by the pandemic.

The program, a joint effort with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), will provide $400 million in grants over five years nationwide. In California, the program will disperse at least $5 million this year, with more funding expected in the future. Organizations will use the grant money to place AmeriCorps volunteers in schools and other locations where they can help families get COVID vaccines, tests and treatment; find mental health counseling; and connect to other local health resources.

The goal is to improve public health overall, but especially in communities that have been hard hit by COVID. Low-income, Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, suffering greater health impacts as well as economic repercussions.

The program is also intended to lure more workers to the public health field, which the CDC determined was woefully understaffed when the pandemic struck. Ideally, the grant program will help prepare thousands of future nurses, doctors, epidemiologists, researchers and others interested in the field, said Michael Smith, chief executive of AmeriCorps.

Here are the California organizations that won public health grants from AmeriCorps:

  • Safe Passages: $273,000
  • Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: $1.6 million
  • A. Works: $1.5 million
  • Reach Out: $201,000
  • The Arc: $278,000

These organizations that also were awarded grants have branches in California: Reading & Math, Inc.; Leeza’s Care Connection; FoodCorps, Inc.; Catholic Charities; Boat People SOS; and the American Heart Association.

In Alameda County, the nonprofit Safe Passages will place 15 AmeriCorps volunteers in schools in Oakland, Hayward and Union City. Those volunteers will work directly with families, go to health fairs and other events, meet with students and parents at school, and call families to help them get vaccinated, among other tasks.

The AmeriCorps investment comes amid a broad surge of support for health services located on school campuses. The new state budget includes $1.1 billion for community schools which offer on-campus health care, mental health services and other amenities for students as well as families.

In addition, since the pandemic, schools around the state have opened “wellness centers,” rooms where students can relax, meditate, see counselors, do yoga, get peer counseling and otherwise tend to their mental health. Districts also have extra funding to hire more counselors, psychologists and social workers; partner with local nonprofits that offer health services; streamline the process to bill Medi-Cal for health services; and invest in social-emotional learning in the classroom.