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!