About a month ago, one of the most vibrant AmeriCorps programs operating in the Pacific Northwest — Northwest Service Academy (NWSA) — was notified that its latest funding request to the Corporation for National and Community Service was denied, with no warning and no explanation — after 16 years of achieving its performance goals, and establishing itself as one of the country’s top AmeriCorps programs addressing critical environmental and related social issues.
Over half the AmeriCorps members serving in the state of Oregon this past year have been members of NWSA.
CNCS’s denial of funding for the program brings up many questions for the local community as well as for national service communities as a whole:
• What does the NWSA funding denial mean for other AmeriCorps programs that are operating in good faith to achieve what’s needed for local communities and for members? There is never a guarantee for continued AmeriCorps funding, but shouldn’t the Corporation respect local program efforts enough to have a conversation about terminating funding for well-established programs? (NWSA has been working hard for 16 years to develop high-quality AmeriCorps programming.)
• Do local and regional programs need to start hiring lobbyists to ensure a fair hearing when funding decisions are being made?
• Why can’t programs denied funding this year appeal CNCS’s decision?
• Is AmeriCorps truly a public-private partnership, when the local organizations, agencies, and schools that provide matching funds to host NWSA AmeriCorps members aren’t offered any kind of cogent explanation for why they can’t host a member this coming year after all?
• NWSA can reapply for funding in 2011. But what will its staff do till then? Will experienced staff have gone on to find jobs elsewhere as a matter of necessity — and if so, what does that mean for future NWSA funding proposals, and AmeriCorps teams?
• What can NWSA supporters do to express their anger and confusion, and to be heard by people who can help?
To this last question, Laura Guderyahn, an Oregon-based former NWSA corps member wrote an email to the community last week urging people to take part in a letter-writing campaign letting the right government leaders understand the impact of losing NWSA:
- Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley
- Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer
- Patrick Corvington, the new CEO of the Corporation
- John Gomperts, the new director of AmeriCorps
The focus of the campaign is to demand that the appeals process be re-instated, so that NWSA can appeal the funding rejection.
In an effort to make sure that letters are most effective and that they are getting to the people that need to see them, here are a couple of guidelines:
- Make it personal – describe exactly what NWSA members have been able to do for your organization (building capacity, providing services, reaching out to people that your organization otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach) and what their loss will mean in terms of loss of service, loss of momentum and loss of energy, even if only for one year.
- Focus the message in your letters towards requesting/supporting an appeal. It is still unclear what the official/unofficial appeals process is and if enough people request that the NWSA application get a second look, we just might get a second chance.
- If possible and appropriate, consider sending a petition around your organization or to the citizens that will no longer be educated/reached out to by AmeriCorps members. This may allow people that might not be able to write a full letter, still get their feelings known. If you have school groups that are usually taught by members, consider having the kids all sign a petition to keep NWSA members at their schools. Attach this petition to the letter(s) you write.
- Do not send or address letters to NWSA – NWSA cannot forward any letters on to those that they need to get to, as this would be seen as them advocating for themselves. If you did send or address a letter to NWSA, please consider sending another one to the folks listed below – these are the folks that need to receive your letters. If possible, please send a letter to each of them.
NWSA, which can’t advocate for itself, has made it clear what the impact will be on Oregon and Southwest Washington communities to not get the AmeriCorps members they were expecting — organizations will struggle to find other means of supporting their work in a poor economy, and with an anticipated 9 percent cut in the Oregon state budget.
While NWSA is investigating other means of support and other program designs that don’t require federal dollars, the sudden funding decision and the lack of communication from CNCS is heart-breaking for local fans of national service, including NWSA, its members and partners. State sources of AmeriCorps funding look promising in Oregon and Washington (for example, NWSA is partnering with Impact Northwest, an AmeriCorps State program, to fund 26 members starting this fall).