Once there, she learned that she could be a leader. "I have a really good sense of knowing that I can really accomplish whatever I want to," she said at her recent graduation from the North Carolina Public Allies. "I've met some really incredible young people as well as community leaders."
But the graduation was bittersweet for some. The Bush administration has cut funding for Americorps by 27.5 percent this year, from $240 million to $174 million. That means many some of the 50,000 volunteer slots nationwide will be cut. North Carolina is usually allocated 220 slots, but will have about 125 for this fall.
To try to offset that, the U.S. Senate voted to boost funding by $100 million. But the latest blow was the defeat in committee this week of a similar bill proposed by U.S. Rep. David Price (D-Chapel Hill).
The cuts to the program were the result of an audit that found there wasn't enough money in the trust to support the educational award given to graduates. So, much of the money usually allotted was diverted back for the educational awards.
Atchley, was one of 14 in the class of North Carolina Public Allies to receive the educational award after completing 10 months of full-time leadership training and work in a community apprenticeship program. As part of Public Allies, Atchley was placed with a nonprofit agency four days a week, and on the fifth day, the program provided a leadership seminar on nonprofit management skills, volunteer, recruitment, conflict resolution, team work, technology, and CPR training.
Atchley, a Duke graduate, spent most of her 1,700 hours working as the youth coordinator for the North Carolina Red Cross Chapter. It was a new position for the Red Cross, and showed results-- "One of my greatest accomplishments," Atchley said, "was starting a Red Cross Club at North Carolina Central University."
Under Atchley's leadership, club members completed nearly 200 hours of community service after its founding in August. "That's the thing that I am leaving the Red Cross feeling really good about," she said. "I have a really good sense of knowing that I can really accomplish whatever I want to."
Like many young people who become Public Allies, Atchley wanted to make a living wage while doing something of service to the community. The work was at times challenging and required a lot of dedication, but Atchley knows she made the right decision. She was able to help strengthen the community, all while receiving a stipend of about $1,500 a month, health insurance, an interest-free student loan deferment, and a post-service award of $4,725.
Because of this year's funding cuts, Atchley is just thankful there will be a class next year at all. Offering words of wisdom to next year's smaller, but fortunate, class, she says: "If you want something to happen, make it happen instead of waiting for it to happen. If there is something that you want that does not exist, create it."