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The case for saving AmeriCorps

Posted by Kendra Moore Feb 2, 2011 , ,

Three years into the worst recession in decades, Congress has to tighten our nation’s belt.  I get that; it’s necessary.  I also get that, as nonprofit staffers, we are all going to argue loudly about why our organization shouldn’t be subjected to budget cuts, but many services are going to be cut anyway.  In the end, we’ll do what the nonprofit sector does best- hunker down and serve more people with less money through our passion, commitment, and sacrifice. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.  Nonprofits are survivors, for better or worse.

But you know what will truly cut us off at the knees? The complete elimination of AmeriCorps. Yep, you read that right.  House Republicans have proposed a plan to cut spending by $35 billion that includes the elimination of the entire AmeriCorps program.

In the 17 years since it was founded, AmeriCorps has created a national service movement.  Countless nonprofits rely on the service of AmeriCorps members to power its programs, including some of the biggest names like City Year, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America and Jumpstart.

In Florida alone, 74,000 people are getting things done through AmeriCorps programs. Strong Women, Strong Girls South Florida is one of those programs.  Our mentors each commit to anywhere from 300 to 1,700 hours of service to high risk girls in their communities. In total, our members will complete over 10,000 hours of service this year– that’s 10,000 hours spent teaching girls essential life skills, building relationships, and serving as role models.

AmeriCorps makes that service possible.  Say what you will about paid volunteerism, but the truth is that if we want people from diverse backgrounds to serve, we have to make it a realistic option. Giving 1,700 hours of unpaid time in one year is impossible for the vast majority of the American public.  Let’s face it, we all have bills, and our landlords and power companies don’t care if we’re doing work that is mission-driven or not. Federal AmeriCorps funding allows organizations like SWSG to recruit members from diverse socioeconomic, racial, and educational backgrounds. For SWSG, this means that girls build relationships with young women who grew up in their communities and have shared experiences with theirs.

AmeriCorps makes an impact not only in our communities, but also on its members.  Serving makes people more likely to enter into public service careers.  In fact, 60% of alumni work with a nonprofit or in government eight years after completing their service. Compare that to the 17.5% of the general public that are working in those sectors– it’s undeniable that AmeriCorps lays a foundation for service. Here’s a statistic that might bring AmeriCorps’ impact a little closer to home- 50% of Strong Women, Strong Girls full time employees are current or former AmeriCorps members!

AmeriCorps touches all sectors within the nonprofit world.  The elimination of this program won’t just hurt the education nonprofits or the social services nonprofits or the health nonprofits or the environmental nonprofits- it would hurt all sectors. And by extension, it would hurt every member of our communities.

So what can you do to save AmeriCorps from Congress’ chopping block? Let your congress(wo)man know how much of a difference AmeriCorps makes in our communities before they begin debating this bill on Monday, February 14. Call or write to your Representative. Attend a town hall meeting. Write to your local newspaper. Blog about it. Get active. Let’s save AmeriCorps together!

$30 gives college mentors the tools needed to be role models.