Despite Shutdown, AmeriCorps Still Gets Things Done

Callie Kozlak is the Director of Public Funding Strategy at Citizen Schools. 

Despite the dark cloud looming over Washington D.C, there is still reason to celebrate in our nation’s capital.

americorp_logo20In September, AmeriCorps celebrated its 20th Anniversary. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, incorporating AmeriCorps State and National, to provide grants to hundreds of local community organizations throughout the U.S and draw volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to step up and help others.

Since then, more than 800,000 people have served as AmeriCorps members, and more than 1 billion hours have been invested in improving lives and strengthening communities.

For Citizen Schools, the AmeriCorps program has been an integral part of our culture of service and ability to grow and serve more students. In 2009, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act--which the U.S. Congress had passed with strong support from both parties. The Act reauthorized and expanded AmeriCorps to include new sections of the program that would specifically address the needs of low income communities, including increasing student engagement and access to expanded learning opportunities.

Thanks to AmeriCorps, this year alone we are able to mobilize 244 talented, full-time Teaching Fellows who are dedicated to serving low-income youth across the country.

saluteWhen asked to reflect on the importance of AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows acting as mentors, a former Citizen Schools student, Valentine Banor, said, "I think it’s extremely important! I was a shy kid until meeting the Teaching Fellows like Robert and Sheldon. They got me to be creative. In the long term, Citizen Schools actually prepares you to grow up. I’m so grateful for it."

Thousands of students like Val have witnessed the impact of AmeriCorps. In addition, over 14 studies have shown that AmeriCorps programs generate economic benefits that outweigh their economic costs.[1]

But despite its proven value, funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, is under constant threat. Over the past three years, the U.S. Congress has reduced CNCS funding by eight percent, which has eliminated nearly 10,000 AmeriCorps positions. Citizen Schools and its supporters and friends fight every day for the sustainability of AmeriCorps, both for our own program and other programs supporting low- income communities around the country.

The temporary government shutdown is discouraging, but there is still hope. Each year hundreds of thousands of young Americans who want to make a real difference in their communities are drawn to service. In 2011 alone there were over 600,000 applications to AmeriCorps programs.

Despite the financial crisis, the CNCS recently formed the National Service Taskforce, a group of cabinet-level appointees who will look at new ways to expand national service to meet needs in America in collaboration with other Federal agencies and the private sector. Now more than ever, national service programs like AmeriCorps should be celebrated and supported.

Your voice will make a real difference in protecting AmeriCorps and other programs that help under privileged children in America. Take action today and save service.

[1] Frumkin, Peter, and JoAnn Jastrzab. Serving Country and Community: Who Benefits from National Service?. Harvard University Press, 2010