I have had the privilege of consulting and training nationally with the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency responsible for funding nonprofits to run national service programs (AmeriCorps, VISTA, NCCC, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America) for 14 years with the Aguirre Division of JBS International. I added it up last week and I have done trainings in 48 of 50 states, Guam and American Samoa -training over 10,000 people!
As I have said before, I am a true believer in the role nonprofits, service and volunteerism can play in local communities to make a real difference because of the great work I have seen first hand all across the country. When the Bush Administration came in, those of us working in National Service were nervous about the potential impact of the new administration. As it turned out, George Bush did end up being supportive of national service so AmeriCorps and the other programs continued forward much as before though funding has been cut back each year.
During this political season, both candidates for President spoke positively about national service and volunteerism which was very exciting. Now that Obama is President-elect, it appears AmeriCorps and national service will be a featured initiative under the new incoming administration which is GREAT! Check out the transition website to get a sense of the tone!
It seems the Obama Administration will make some important positive changes which I find exciting! The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Obama has pledged to create a Social Entrepreneurship Agency within the Corporation for National and Community Service, to generate more venture capital for socially conscious startups. The new agency would make it easier for small nonprofits to get federal grants, plus come up with a results-driven accountability system so government officials could make better decisions about which charities to fund.” Check out the full article by Meredith May.
Michelle Obama has firsthand experience with AmeriCorps and seems very supportive. A recent Newsweek article by Richard Wolffe reporting on his interview with her included the following two questions and answers.
“You want to continue what you did with Public Allies [ which trains young people to become leaders of community groups and nonprofits] as First Lady. What‘ s your thinking on how to go about that?
Barack is talking about a deeper investment in national service; that’s been part of his platform. He’s been meeting with some of the leadership of the AmeriCorps national-service movements—the Public Allies, the Teach for Americas, the City Years of the World—and figuring out how do we use that model, expand upon it, and help use that as a more creative way to defray the costs of college for young people and get all Americans really engaged. What AmeriCorps showed me, during the time that I worked on it, is that all these resources of young people, and not-so-young people, as I call them—because AmeriCorps is not just for young adults but people of all ages—you can fill a lot of gaps with the help of community-service hours. The young people in my program worked as program directors. They worked with kids and they worked in parks and they worked with nonprofit organizations that didn’t have the resources to bring people in full time. So this is one of those clear win-wins. You can help kids pay for school, you can get needed man-hours into really critical things like the environment, senior care, Head Start—a whole range of things. And you get the country more focused on giving back.
There are elements of this already in place at the national level. Is it just a lack of resources, or insufficient focus and organization?
Fortunately, [President] Bush kept AmeriCorps, but it was significantly defunded. I haven’t worked on AmeriCorps in a while, so I don’t know how the funding cuts have really affected them … When I was with Public Allies, and AmeriCorps was at its height, there were resources for expansion. So you had the new program in Chicago that I started. Then there was something going on in Milwaukee, and they were looking at West Coast offices. But I think with those funds reduced, people had to stop that kind of growth. So you’re just limited in the number of slots that you can have for young people or seniors or what-have-you.”
The only downside is that the budgets for such programs are decided over a year in advance so any potential reversal of recent cut backs and austerity measures may take a while to come into being. In the meantime, these programs and the nonprofits that sponsor them continue to offer great opportunities for your company to get involved locally and make a real difference. Check the AmeriCorps website to find information about programs you can partner with located in your state.