Now Is The Time

Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty...in heels.

In the United States more than 633,000 people experience homelessness every night.  48.9 million Americans are at risk of hunger - including one in five kids. Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty.  Hunger, homelessness, and poverty are devastating for individuals and our communities. This is unacceptable, unjust, and illogical.

We know that effective, commonsense policies like SNAP and EITC lift people out of poverty. We know that Rapid Rehousing and Housing First models reduce homelessness. We know that innovative philanthropic endeavors like Collective Impact and Social Impact Bonds can transform the way government, nonprofits, and local communities work together to tackle our toughest challenges. We know we can band together and create change.

Now Is The Time to get this done.

This site will feature a collection of personal reflections, original ideas, and smart thinking from around the country and the globe on the issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty.  We'll check in with thought leaders and discuss ways we can create change. We will also highlight ways to leverage two of my favorite things - National Service and the philanthropic sector. 

National Service. National Treasure.

americorps-oath-google-search.jpg

Fight poverty.

Tutor children.

Repair trails.

Build housing.

Mobilize volunteers

Tackle hunger.

Retrain workers.  

Restore hope.

These are just a few of the things AmeriCorps members do every day. And research shows they do it exceptionally well. In 2003 I moved to Seattle to join AmeriCorps. I tutored struggling readers, connected families with community resources, recruited volunteers and built a program to provide free tax preparation to low income families. It was an incredible experience that launched my career and ignited my commitment to justice, equity and a lifetime of service.

I am one of the one million people who served with AmeriCorps since the program launched in 1994. This year 80,000 AmeriCorps members will serve at over 21,000 unique sites in cities, towns and rural communities across the nation. They will proudly serve our veterans, increase neighborhood safety, connect struggling people with job training, and leverage over $1 billion in cash and in-kind resources. Perhaps most importantly, they respond to disasters and emerging community needs like the opioid crisis.

National Service is a national treasure. It helps people today while building a pipeline of civically engaged leaders.

Most of us won’t know that it was an AmeriCorps member who prepared our taxes, rebuilt our home, tutored our children, or built the trail we run on. Quietly AmeriCorps member learn, engage, and serve our communities everyday.  After service, AmeriCorps Alumni go on to teach, run for office, lead nonprofits, change policies, and volunteer in their communities.  Without them, our kids would be hungrier, more people would be homeless, and it would take longer to recover from disaster.  Unfortunately, National Service is under attack from the Trump Administration. Despite deep bi-partisan support for the effective programs that serve our nation,  President Trump has called for the elimination of the Corporation For National and Community Service, the entity that houses AmeriCorps, The Social Innovation Fund, and similar programs.

We must fight to save AmeriCorps.

Back in 2003 when I joined AmeriCorps, it faced deep funding cuts. When my own service year was threatened, I sent an email urging my senator, the late Ted Kennedy, to protect service.  I recently found that email and remembered how proud I was to be selected for AmeriCorps  and reflected on how different my life would be without that experience. Senator Kennedy would go on to help create the Serve America Act, because he believed that everyone should have the opportunity to serve. I’ve dedicated my career to giving others the opportunity to serve – 200 this year. In turn, they work with people experiencing homelessness, hungry students in the K-12 and college systems, and nonprofits that need additional capacity. They work tirelessly to make our community stronger, healthier, and more resilient. We need more of them, not fewer. 

I remember tearing up the first time I took the AmeriCorps oath of service and still do every time I hear it. Because it is what this country is all about. Coming together, giving back, and getting things done. Now we need to get things done for AmeriCorps. Join me in taking action to save our national treasure.

~Lauren

p.s. Here's the letter I sent Senator Kennedy and a picture of my partner Mike and I as AmeriCorps members. Excuse the typos and his hair.  :)

Senator Kennedy,

As a MA Voter, and political activist I'd like to thank you for your recent
comments on the Crisis with AmeriCorps.  I'm a moving to Seattle in 2 weeks to join AmeriCorps.  However as a result of the Funding problems, I don't know if I'll have a program to serve when I
get out there.

As you are well aware, AmeriCorps allows non-profits and other organizations
to aid the community...the same communities whose States struggle to keep
the most crucial social programs alive, communities whose class size rise as
teachers lose jobs, and communities where families fight to have health
coverage and food.

The members of AmeriCorps serve the most vulnerable and fill the gaps in
places where funding lacks, where students struggle, and where social
programs have been cut.  AmeriCorps members are there to serve not because
they have to be, but because they want to be.  They want to help those in
need, they are happy to help those in need.

While the government cuts taxes and the president praises service, states
must raise taxes or cut programs and AmeriCorps has little money to hire
members to bridge the gaps that have been created.

While Democrats and Republicans bicker, and we fight over seas, the average
American suffers.  AmeriCorps is an opportunity, an opportunity to help
others, an opportunity to create new leaders and an opportunity for
communities to thrive.

I thank you again for your comments in support of this program and ask that
you continue your great work!

sincerely,

Lauren E. McGowan
********************************************
Lauren E. McGowan
Give Liberty A Hand! Coordinator
Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
105 Chauncy St., 9th Fl.


 

 

 

 

AmriCorps - Getting Things Done

Working to address complex issues like poverty or the achievement gap often requires spending countless hours in meetings, debating best practices, and evaluating data. The "work" is often getting through the next meeting, bringing the next dollar in the door, or putting out the latest fire. Sometimes you need to crawl through the cobwebs of bureaucracy and process for a reminder of who you are helping and why that data is so important.

Enter AmeriCorps.

For the last 20 years ordinary Americans have become extraordinary heroes by committing to spend a year serving with AmeriCorps. Each of the 70,000+ Americans who commit to a year of intense National Service begin with the pledge

“I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.” 

And that's exactly what they do.  AmeriCorps members are like Mary Poppins  - they appear at exactly the right time to save the day (and brush aside those cobwebs) with enthusiasm, ideas, relentless drive, hope, ambition, and willingness to get sh*t done.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. Since the program launched, more than 900,000 volunteers have delivered more than 1.2 billion hours of service in thousands of communities. I've had the privilege of seeing hundreds of National Service members teach kids to read, empower young people, help families meet their most basic needs, and build the capacity of anti-poverty programs. I get goosebumps thinking about the game-changing work they do during their year of service and beyond. That's the best part. The ethic of service and fierce commitment to justice they develop as AmeriCorps members continues throughout their life. AmeriCorps Alums become leaders and social change agents. They help develop healthier and more compassionate communities. They remind us push through those cobwebs and tackle big social issues with tenacity and determination.

We need more hope. We need more action. We need more AmeriCorps.

900,000 is an impressive number of alum - but what would happen if we expanded that number?  What if each and every young person could choose to do a year of National Service after high school or college? What if service was a right of passage? I believe our schools and communities would be safer, healthier, and more resilient. Imagine - cobwebs busted, kids soaring,families thriving. The power and potential is exponential. The Kennedy Serve America Act promised to grow AmeriCorps, but it hasn't been properly funded. It's time to urge Congress and the President to expand National Service.  Visit ServiceNation to see how you can help.

Why I'm Supporting the ServiceNation 20-20 Challenge

Civic engagement and national service are cornerstones of a healthy and thriving country. Connecting the time, talent, and passion of citizens with the needs of a nation can create transformational change both for the individual and the people being served. Over last 20 years 800,000 Americans have had the opportunity to provide intensive community service through AmeriCorps. Together they have tackled poverty in our most vulnerable communities, mobilized millions of volunteers, and provided disaster relief after our most devastating floods, tornados, and hurricanes. AmeriCorps members are catalysts for change - integral tools in our quest for solving complex social problems. The only thing holding AmeriCorps back is scale.

In the United States there are:

figure_j_11-12-12.jpg
national service.jpg
  • 1.1 million homeless school children
  • 48.9 million individuals at risk of hunger
  • Nearly 50 million people living in poverty 
  • 1 million school drop outs each year
  • Almost 6 million (15%) young people out of school or work

Our country is facing enormous challenges but also huge opportunities.

What if we connected those out of work young people to national service?

What if we expanded the number of national service slots available each year?

What if we could match the talents of 1 million AmeriCorps members with the needs of vulnerable communities across the country?

That would be 10 times the number of AmeriCorps members we currently have. 10 times the impact.

The Franklin Project, a venture of the Aspen Institute, is developing the case for a large-scale expansion of national service. Their vision is bold and they have assembled a dynamic and influential team to get the job done. Early research indicates that scaling national service programs would increase cost-effectiveness. The estimated cost would be $20.7 billion but the return would be 92.6 billion. That’s a darn good return on investment.

I want to see AmeriCorps scaled to meet the needs of our nation. As the Franklin Project develops the case for expansion, we need to mobilize and activate citizens to support the vision.  ServiceNation is doing just that. This national advocacy organization is building a grassroots movement to make a year of national service a way of life.

ServiceNation has teamed up with Voices For National Service for the 20/20 Challenge. As an a National Service Alum I support this challenge because I want to celebrate the first 20 years of AmeriCorps and I believe in the vision of taking national service to scale.     

 

 

 

800,000 Strong - AmeriCorps Alums Rally During Government Shutdown

We've all seen the impact of the Government Shutdown - from federal civilian workers and national parks to Head Start programs and WIC Clinics -  it's pretty bad out there. AmeriCorps VISTA members are among those feeling the pinch of this political mess. These full-time "Volunteers In Service To America" are fighting poverty in our most vulnerable communities and had their meager stipends reduced by 1/ 3 this week. If the shutdown continues they won't get paid until in ends.  For some, that could be the difference between paying rent and keeping the lights on.

But unlike many shutdown stories - this one has turned hopeful. AmeriCorps Alums from across the country are rallying to help current members. This crisis has turned into a catalyst for action. Alums are mobilizing resources to help members through this difficult time - and hopefully re-engaging in the AmeriCorps community.

Since 1994 more than 800,000 people have participated in national service through AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps members have provided one billion hours of community service, supported 15,000 organizations across the United States, mobilized millions of volunteers, and improved the lives of countless individuals. The program is transformational for those who choose to serve in addition to those impacted by service. As a proud national service Alum, I've long believed in the impact of national service and the potential of the extraordinary network of AmeriCorps Alums. 

The ethic of a lifetime of service has led many Alums to become leaders in government, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Those of us who were made in AmeriCorps have benefited long after our year of service and have a deep appreciation for the experience we had. We hire other alums, mentor current members, and advocate on behalf of national service...but it's not enough. Despite enormous potential, the network of Alums has never quite lived up to its potential to mobilize, leverage, and influence. With 800,000 alumni, we should be able to do more to build public and political support for civic engagement and service. 

made_in_americorps_merged_la.jpg

I'm hopeful that this crisis will not only lead to immediate action but a renewed commitment to national service.

 Alums, take a moment to remember your year of service.

  1. Consider getting involved in your local Alumni Chapter and helping members today.
  2. Then think about what we could do if we all banded together to build a stronger national service program.  What if everyone had an opportunity to commit to a year of service? Could we help more struggling readers? Lift more people out of poverty? Significantly reduce the drop-out rate? Engage even more volunteers? I think so.
  3. If you agree, get engaged with Service Nation and Voices for National Service - they are leading the national service movement.

If any group could turn the shutdown into an opportunity - it's those who were made in AmeriCorps. Let's do this.

AmeriCorps A Love Story

This was first posted on the United Way of King County Blog.

I have a confession......I love AmeriCorps.  Like traveling in Barcelona,  sipping red wine,  and watching West Wing, AmeriCorps is a passion, a hobby, and something I treasure.  Over the last decade I've served as in AmeriCorps, mentored dozens of  National Service members, watched Alums grow into community leaders, and been dazzled by the impact this program has on our community. Nationally, 75,000 AmeriCorps members will serve at 15,000 locations and mobilize 4 million volunteers.  Right here is WA more than 13,000 are strengthening our schools, non profits,  and faith based organizations   AmeriCorps is high impact, high quality, and high return on investment.  And yet, sequestration and the latest budget debate are threatening the future of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS).  These cuts will impact out kids, our seniors, our communities, and our future leaders.

My love affair with AmeriCorps began in the mid nineties.  I did a school report on the 1993 legislation that created CNCS & AmeriCorps.  I was fascinated by the bi-partisan legislation that created the "Domestic Peace Corps" and dreamed about putting on a vest with a big letter A (note that it was the nineties and my fashion choices were not so great.  Also once I read the Scarlet Letter I wasn't so sure).

Flash forward ten years and my partner and I are standing in a Fed Ex Office in Coply Square mailing off dozens of AmeriCorps applications.  We were excited for a year-long adventure that would take us from Boston and allow us to give back.... it turned out to be much more.  Over the next few months we interviewed with programs seeking out the perfect fit.  One day I was sitting in my office at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition and interviewed with a fabulous lady from Solid Ground.  My face flushed from nerves and excitement... I knew this was it.   But then reality hit.....AmeriCorps was facing massive cuts in the federal budget. The once bi-partisan support was deteriorating and members of congress were asking why we were paying "volunteers".

2003 marked the start of my advocacy for and fierce commitment to National Service.  I called and e-mailed Senator Kennedy and Congressman Frank, talked with friends and family about National Service, and despite the budget uncertainty moved across the country to serve.  Fortunately National Service leaders like Alan Khazei were hard at work on the Save AmeriCorps Act which restored and eventually increased funding to AmeriCorps.  My year of service was delayed slightly by partisan politics but ultimately saved. This would change the trajectory of my life and career. The things I learned, the people I met, and the experiences I had have shaped my commitment to ending hunger, homelessness and the cycle of poverty.

As a firm believer of the power of National Service, I've brought AmeriCorps members into United Way in every way possible. From VISTA volunteers to a National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Team AmeriCorps members have shaped programs, leveraged resources, built capacity, increased our impact and led to sustainable efforts to address poverty.  This year they will engage more that 2,000 volunteers and serve more than 20,000 low income people.  Here are a few examples of why I LOVE AmeriCorps:

  • Free Tax Prep Campaign: AmeriCorps members have grown this effort from a small community campaign to one that connects 15,000 low income families with Earned Income Tax Credit and other benefits.  Last year the program cost 400K to run and returned$21 million to our community - talk about Return on Investment!.
  • Bridge to Basics: A national model for utilizing volunteers to connect families with SNAP/Food Stamps, Utility Assistance, Health Care, and even FAFSA.
  • Volunteer Impact Partnership:  VISTA's are increasing the capacity of local agencies by developing strategies to effectively engage and utilize volunteers.
  • Veteran Employment Project: A VISTA led the development of this program that connects chronically homeless veterans with supported employment.
  • Volunteer Reader Program: AmeriCorps members have helped shape this program that mobilizes 100+ volunteers annually to read to young children.
  • Community Resource Exchange:  AmeriCorps members mobilize 500 volunteers to connect 1500 people experiencing with services each year.
  • Hunger Free King County: Perhaps our boldest utilization of National Service Members.  They are the driving force behind this collect impact effort to end child hunger.

This is one organization in one community where AmeriCorps is making a gigantic difference.  Think about what happens when you multiply that impact.  Even better, the members that have served with United Way continue to give back.  They are in leadership roles, on boards, serving as mentors, and continuing a commitment to a lifetime of service,  The program creates impact today and leaders for tomorrow.

Learn more about AmeriCorps and how you can help save AmeriCorps by visiting ServiceNation.  I'm confident you'll fall in love too!