Category Archives: americorps

Great day for national service

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

The number of Americans annually participating in national service programs will triple under legislation approved today by the House of Representatives and approved last week by the Senate, from 75,000 a year to 250,000 by 2017.  Especially heartening, given my experience as a senior policy advisor in the Senate on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 was the level of bipartisan support.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed the House 275-149 with almost all Democrats supporting it.  While a clear majority of Republicans were opposed, it still garnered 26 Republican votes.  The Senate had passed the same legislation last Thursday in a 78-20 vote, including 22 Republicans.  It is expected that  President Obama, who campaigned on this issue will sign it into law shortly.

The legislation creates  four new corps to address needs in low-income communities: a Clean Energy Corps (CEC) that deals with energy efficiency and conservation; an Education Corps to increase student engagement and achievement; a Healthy Futures Corps to improve access to health-care; and a Veterans Service Corps to help veterans get needed social services.  The CEC will build energy-efficient low-income housing, provide clean energy-related services designed to meet the needs of rural communities, and work with schools and youth programs to educate students and youth about ways to reduce home energy use and improve the environment.

The bill creates new programs for a wide range of age groups. A new Summer of Service program for middle- and high-school students encourages them to volunteer in their communities by allowing them to earn $500 to be used toward college costs. Students will be eligible to participate in two terms, earning up to $1,000. The Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships are two programs that offer Americans age 55 or older post-career service opportunities, as well as a way into new careers in the nonprofit or public sector. The federal education reward that volunteers receive for their service, rises to $5,350 starting next year, from the current $4,725 and is then indexed to increases in Pell grants.

The bill also dramatically strengthens service learning — using community service projects as a vehicle to strengthen and enforce academic learning in schools.  [Studies have found that service learning can be an especially effective way to teach since the service projects often require underlying academic skills which students are more motivated to learn or practice if they understand their relevance, and which students remember better afterwards.  An example might be teaching students about scientific measurement by measuring pollution in a river and sharing these results with local environmental groups or officials.]

National service has huge ripple effects on volunteering.  The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees the AmeriCorps program, estimates that the 75,000 AmeriCorps members who served last year  supervised 2.2 million community volunteers.

Interest in volunteering is rising amid the worsening economy, the sheen that President Obama has given to this issue, and the coming of age of a more altruistic generation, many who got exposure to volunteering in school.   But the economic downturn has also hit the younger generation harder.  Of the 1.2 million jobs lost last year, 60% were held by workers under the age of 25, according to the office of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.).

There were 9,731 applications submitted to the AmeriCorps online system last month, over triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008.  In 2007, more than 61 million Americans spent over 8 billion hours volunteering. More than a quarter of young Americans 16-25 have volunteered. And nearly 65,000 college students prepared to do volunteer work for spring break this year, up 11% over last year.

“The silver lining of economic downturns is that more Americans, especially Millennials, are flocking to public-service positions,” said Sandy Scott, CNCS spokesman.

Investing in service also leverages impressive economic returns. In 2007, volunteers generated $158 billion worth of economic benefits. A cost-benefit analysis of AmeriCorps, for example, showed that every $1 invested produced returns of $1.50 to $3.90 in direct measurable benefits.

As Patrick Kennedy said on the floor of the House before passage: ” There’s an old saying that reads, ‘The most sacred thing one person can give another, outside of their love, is their labor.’  That goes to the core of why supporting programs that promote volunteerism and community service is so important..”

Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee noted on the floor of the House:

History has shown that in times of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit and generosity of the American people is one of our nation’s greatest assets….We see this every single day. In the past week, North and South Dakota have been in a state of emergency, with communities facing severe flooding as the snow melts. As they have in so many other times of disaster, Americans showed up to help. Officials estimate that there are tens of thousands of volunteers who have already been on the ground for days, lining the shores of the river with over 1.5 million sandbags to help stop the flooding. In Fargo, a city with a population of 90,000, 80,000 volunteers showed up to help.They’ve driven through treacherous conditions from Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and beyond, ready to serve and ready to help….This legislation is just what we need, at this pivotal moment, to get our nation back on track.

President Obama commented: “”I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country.”

A summary of the legislation is available here.

A summary of the service learning provisions is available here.

In the run-up to the bill being passed there were also strong editorials or op-eds:

Bruce Reed and John Bridgeland , Volunteer to Save the Economy, NYT op-ed (1/23/09), noting that since those doing national service cost far less, they could provide an outsize economic stimulus per dollar invested.

The Moment for National Service, NYT Editorial (1/26/09)

Colin Powell, Let’s Renew America Together, WSJ Op-Ed (1/17/09), discussing the importance of USAservice.org

[I]n times of need…, [t]his is not a time to retreat to our homes and wait until it’s safe to emerge. It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation’s unrivaled capacity for good….You don’t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don’t have to work in government. And you don’t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.

Read previous Social Capital blog posts on the importance of national service.

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Barack Obama boldly endorses broader national service plan

Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama in a terrific speech today at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa rallied Americans to action and promised that the government would create more opportunity for such national and community service through 250,000 AmeriCorps members, through an Energy Corps and a Classroom Corps, by doubling the Peace Corps [with Harris Wofford by his side], by strengthening YouthBuild and by dramatically expanding the role of service learning in middle and high schools across the country. Obama also pledged the government to help spur social entrepreneurship.

It looks like a strong plan, although it would be nice to see Obama committing that the corps in which Americans serve will be diverse as this could be a very effective way at starting to break down Americans’ discomfort with those who are unlike them in some way, in the same way that the military has effectively done that. For more on the challenges in the short-term of integrating diversity and social cohesion, see here or here.

Obama indicated that it was through his own service as a community organizer, against the naysaying of elders who told him that he couldn’t make a difference and should make money instead, that Obama says he discovered his own dreams, found a church he felt he belonged to, discovered the meaning of his citizenship and understood how his “own improbably story fit into a larger American story”.

Obama went on:

“In America each of us seeks our own dreams, but the sum of those dreams must be greater than ourselves. Because the America we inherited is the legacy of those who struggled, and those who served in so many ways, before us.

It’s the legacy of a band of unlikely patriots who overthrew the tyranny of a King.

It’s the legacy of abolitionists who stood up, and soldiers who fought for a more perfect union.

It’s the legacy of those who started to teach in our schools and tend to the sick in our cities; who laid the rails and volunteered to uphold the law as America moved west.

It’s the legacy of men who faced the Depression by putting on the uniform of the Civilian Conservation Corps; of women who worked on that Arsenal of Democracy and built the tanks and ships and bomber aircraft to fight fascism.

It’s the legacy of those women’s suffragists and freedom riders who stood up for justice; and young people who answered President Kennedy’s call to go forth in a Peace Corps.

The sacrifices made by previous generations have never been easy. But America is a great nation precisely because Americans have been willing to stand up when it was hard; to serve on stages both great and small; to rise above moments of great challenge and terrible trial.

One of those moments took place on September 11, 2001. Whether you lived in Manhattan or here in Mount Vernon, you felt the pain and loss of that day not just as an individual, but as an American. That’s why we lined up to give blood. That’s why we held vigils and flew flags. That’s why we rallied behind our President. We had a chance to step into the currents of history. We were ready to answer a new call for our country. But the call never came. Instead, we were asked to go shopping, and to prove our patriotism by supporting a war in Iraq that should never have been authorized, and never been waged.

We have lost precious time. Our nation is less secure and less respected in the world. Our energy dependence has risen, and so has the specter of climate change. More of our children have been left behind. Instead of a call to unity, we got a political strategy of division. The burden of service has fallen, more and more, on the brave men and women of our military who heroically serve tour after tour of duty in a war without end.”

Calling American people “the answer, not the problem”, he called on Americans to reject the cynics’ “soft sell of the status quo, the voice that tells you to settle because settling is not that bad.” And saying that America can bend history towards justice he reminded Americans of our common fate with the people of this world. “Make no mistake: our destiny as Americans is tied up with one another. If we are less respected in the world, then you will be less safe. If we keep paying dictators to fill up our gas tanks, then those oceans are going to rise. If we can’t give our kids a world-class education, then our economy is going to fall behind….And that’s how it should be. It is time to recapture that sense of a common purpose: I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.”

 

To see a copy of the speech can be seen here and an issue brief on the plan here.