Battle in the House over the Continued Existence of AmeriCorps

Will the House kill the Corporation for National and Community Service?

The battle

According to Voices for National Service, this week the U.S. House of Representatives begins consideration of H.R. 1, a Continuing Resolution that will fund the last 7 months of Fiscal Year 2011 and eliminate AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn & Serve America and the Volunteer Generation Fund.

More info

The youth worker newspaper Youth Today posted:

And The New York Times’s columnist David Brooks wrote more about the budget mess last week.

Take action

Voices for National Service is urging people to contact their Representative and let them know how national and community service programs have made an impact in their lives and communities. From Voices for National Service:

Talking points for Calling the House of Representatives:

  • I am calling to urge you to vote NO on H.R. 1.  Please do not shutdown the Corporation for National and Community Service or eliminate AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn & Serve America or the Volunteer Generation Fund.
  • The CR will decimate vital services in our communities when millions of Americans need food, shelter, healthcare, job training and educational support.
  • Communities are counting on national service participants and community volunteers to meet the increased demand for services.
  • Provide an example of your local impact and what will be lost if your program is eliminated.  Example: My organization has 140 AmeriCorps members serving in 10 Boston Public Schools.  They are providing targeted and school-wide interventions in literacy, match, attendance and classroom behavior.  If Congress eliminates AmeriCorps, nearly 2,000 high-risk 3rd-9th graders will no longer receive this additional support in the classroom.
  • The CR will only push unemployment rates up.  Unemployment numbers — particularly for young people, veterans and military spouses, older Americans and people of color-remain alarmingly high.
  • For Americans who are struggling to find work, national service programs offer participants the opportunity to earn a subsistence-level stipend, develop skills, and create pathways to future employment.  Eliminating programs like AmeriCorps will result in jobs lost for the corps members and the staff who supervise them.  Example: If Congress eliminates AmeriCorps, our 140 AmeriCorps members and the staff that supervise them will be out of work.
  • The federal investment made in faith based and community organizations through the Corporation for National and Community Service leverages $799 million in matching funds from companies, foundations and other sources.
  • If you defund the national service programs, whole organizations will shut down and most will not be able to reopen again even if funding is restored.

How to Contact Your Member of Congress:

  • If you need help determining the members of your congressional delegation, visit www.congress.org. This database will provide you with contact information for your elected officials.
  • You can call your Representatives directly or be connected through the House Operator (202-225-3121).  Once connected, identify yourself as a constituent and ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant in change of national service and education issues.
  • Given the severity of the cuts proposed by the House, you may experience some difficulty calling the Capitol.  It is important that you keep trying.  If you can’t reach your representative by phone, please send a fax communication to their office.  This is time sensitive ask.  Emails or mailed letters will not reach the decision makers in time.  It is critical that our lawmakers hear from the constituents directly impacted by their decisions.

Voices for National Service also highlighted the many weeks this year when the House plans not to be in session, in honor of district “work weeks” when Representatives will be in their home districts. If you’re part of a national service corps, consider inviting Representative(s) for your region to visit service sites, meet with corps members, and see first hand what your program is doing in communities.

It’s hard to imagine that if Congressional Representatives knew what AmeriCorps members actually do, that they could turn their backs on communities in their own backyards by yanking such cost-effective, grassroots, direct & indirect support.

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A Chance (Every Day) to Vote for ServeNext, Atlas Corps, and other Groups

ServeNext— the organization whose mission is to expand opportunities in voluntary service as a way to address social ills and strengthen democracy— is participating in this month’s Pepsi Refresh Project.

So is Atlas Corps, the international service corps with the online contest Midas Touch.

And you can vote for them both every day in February.

While online contests to benefit nonprofits have been questioned recently (especially the recent Chase Giving contest, which my organization Idealist took part in and won money from), the Pepsi contest is ostensibly trying to do something Continue reading

New STEM-Focused Service Learning Funds Available for Middle Schools

From Engaged for Success: Service Learning as a Tool for High School Drop Out Prevention (PDF)

From Engaged for Success: Service Learning as a Tool for High School Drop Out Prevention (PDF)

Youth Service America is looking to fund middle-school based service learning projects incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curricula.

Middle school teachers, administrators, service learning coordinators and after-school staff in select states can apply for $5000 in funding to engage kids in grades six through eight in a semester-long service-learning project geared towards environmental issues.

The grants, called STEMester of Service Grants, aim to address community problems in states with the highest school dropout rates while encouraging kids to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

According to the website, environmental concerns can include green space availability, health effects, climate change, and Continue reading

Rolling out stimulus AmeriCorps members

I listened to an open conference call hosted by Corporation for National and Community Service Chief of Program Operations Kristin McSwain. I am not going to post the more technical aspects of the call, but here are a few points I found interesting.

“Stimulus” members will serve alongside traditional members in existing programs (VISTA might be an exception). Stimulus members will address mostly these areas (though everything is still up in the air) :

1. Winterizing homes, housing access, keeping people in homes
2. Access to health care and providing health care
3. Nonprofit capacity building
4. Youth corps/development

Keep in mind, this is still separate from the Kennedy-Hatch “Serve America Act.”

Here’s the link to the page that will document the changes to national service through the Recovery Act. At the web site, you call a toll-free number to listen to a recording of the call.

Tracking upcoming national service moves

CNCS has a established an official page dedicated to how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will affect national service.

The plans are still a bit vague, but the dollars roll out quickly. I imagine existing programs will see an influx of members serving in economy-related areas pretty soon here.

For anyone with a keen interest in this, CNCS is hosting an open conference call on Friday, February 20. Anyone who misses the call will be able to hear a reply by dialing a toll-free number. All the details are on the web page.

National Service as Paid Volunteering? Uh…No.

If you’ve been considering a term of national service, keep in mind some of the biggest differences between doing a year-long term of full-time service and serving as a community volunteer.

To the uninitiated, a term of national service can seem to be “paid volunteering” because participants earn a basic living allowance. However, real differences exist, and local communities throughout the United States feel the direct impact of those differences.

Community Volunteers

From Flickr user who.log.why

From Flickr user who.log.why

Community volunteers donate their time through a nonprofit or school. They improve their communities because they can extend the human resource capacity of the places where they volunteer.

The amount of time they donate is up to them, but it’s usually part time. Some volunteers join a service project for a few hours on a single day, achieve greatness, feel good, and move on.

An organization’s part-time, longer term community volunteers may help out on sustained projects, or they may tackle shorter tasks that change from day to day.

Finally, as long as their duties are within the bounds of labor laws, the specific assignments are between community volunteers and their supervisors. Community volunteer service rarely comes under strict scrutiny for effectiveness, sustainability, and performance measures the way national service corps member positions do.

In sum, in the United States millions of community volunteers collectively devote billions of hours of their time to causes they believe in. Their contributions to social services are crucial to the operation of most nonprofit organizations and schools. Most serve on a part-time basis, often while in school, gainfully employed, or retired.

National Service Corps Members

picture-10Full-time national service is different in that participants — often called members or corps members — really dedicate all their work-day time to their service. In fact in at least two programs, members cannot hold down any work outside of their service.

National service programs in the United States include AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, AmeriCorps*NCCC, Teach For America, City Year, and many, many others (see the list of Corps and Coalitions in the right-hand side bar of this blog) not all of which receive funds from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

CNCS funds—in part—most of these domestic service corps. It invests money through states, national organizations, and local communities, and that funding is leveraged through host service site matching contributions and other private donations.

Each service program is evaluated and approved at the state or federal government level before funding comes through and corps member recruitment begins. Grant proposals requesting funding for members must show performance outcomes, goals, and measurements. Corps members and their supervisors track the effectiveness of their service regularly, and supervisors write grant reports detailing corps member achievements.

Corps members initiate and lead hefty projects, on critical issues, like disaster preparedness and response, education, poverty, environment, and public safety.

Because corps members serve for a period of 10 to 12 months (or longer, if they commit to a second term) they have a chance to affect lasting, positive change in their organizations — through developing new programs, identifying and going after new sources of funding, and leveraging the efforts of millions of community volunteers.

Corps members also change their communities in permanent ways — by serving in schools, tutoring struggling kids throughout their term, consistently mentoring children of incarcerated parents, increasing the job skills of recent immigrants or high school dropouts, rebuilding communities in the wake of natural disasters, and creating access to affordable health care through local clinics and health organizations and more.

Finally national service is an investment in the corps members themselves, developing the future of public service leadership in the United States. National service corps members receive hours of targeted technical skill-building training throughout their terms. Two-thirds of AmeriCorps members followed in a longitudinal study go on to public service careers. The Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award has made further education possible for thousands of alumni.

The achievements of community volunteers are many and great.  The service of AmeriCorps members is closer to the equivalent of the federal government offering human resource grants to local communities to contribute in crucial capacities. It’s not paid volunteering.

Check out Tim’s post on Change/Wire, which also features video testimonials of service corps participants talk about their achievements.

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Update: National Service Funding in the Stimulus Package

2/11/09: Check out this post about the Senate compromise version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

1/29/09: The Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) offers a legislative update.

But Steve Waldman takes issue with the details of the package.

Nicola Goren, the Acting CEO of CNCS, summarized details of the stimulus package — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — that passed in the House yesterday; and the version that is up for a vote in the Senate.

Regarding the House of Representatives, according to Goren:

Earlier tonight, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, their version of the bill, by a vote of 244-188. The legislation includes $200 million for the Corporation for National and Community Service. According to the House Committee Report, $160 million is provided for AmeriCorps State and National to expand “existing AmeriCorps grants” and $40 million is for the National Service Trust. The committee report cites the challenges facing the nonprofit sector and notes that “nonprofit organizations are also experiencing an increased number of applications for service opportunities and increased demand for services for vulnerable populations to meet critical needs” and suggests the funding would engage an estimated 16,000 more AmeriCorps members.

The bill contains additional legislative language addressing the proposed use of these funds. To read the bill language or committee report, visit the Library of Congress’s Thomas website at http://thomas.loc.gov/ and click on HR1: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 . You can also get the report, the committee-passed version of the bill, and other information from the House Appropriations Committee website at http://appropriations.house.gov/.

And regarding the progress of the Senate’s version of the same bill:

Yesterday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved S. 336, its version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to the committee report, the bill contains $200 million for the Corporation and its programs, broken down as follows:

  • $160 million for AmeriCorps, of which:
    • $65 million for AmeriCorps State and National grants
    • $65 million for AmeriCorps VISTA
    • $13 million for research related to volunteer service
    • $10 million for AmeriCorps NCCC
    • $6 million for upgrades to information technology
    • $1 million for State Commissions
  • $40 million for the National Service Trust

Additional language concerning the intended use of these funds is contained in the bill text and committee report. Both are available now on the Senate Appropriations Committee website at http://appropriations.senate.gov/. To view the bill text, click on Text of S336, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. For the committee report, click on American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan Report.

The next step is for the full Senate to take up the legislation, which is expected to occur next week. Following Senate passage, the House and Senate will meet in a conference to work out differences between the measures. We will keep you posted on further developments.

To read about other potential funding for national service this year, check out the Serve America Act, and this New York Times editorial advocating for its passage.

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