New, Stimulus-funded AmeriCorps Programs Getting Off the Ground

New short-term AmeriCorps programs, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, are getting off the ground.

President Obama signed his stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, on February 17th, 2009. It included additional $201 million in funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service for AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps VISTA programs.

Funding has gone to existing programs to increase the number of open positions, and it’s also gone to organizations already running AmeriCorps programs, to create brand-new, short-term corps.

One example of a new stimulus-funded AmeriCorps program is the Oregon Community Action Corps — now accepting applications for 24 full-time AmeriCorps positions serving throughout the state of Oregon. OCAC will operate out of the American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter here in Portland, which also operates the state’s largest AmeriCorps State program, the Oregon State Service Corps and our largest VISTA program Clara Barton VISTA Corps (both are currently recruiting, also).

AmeriCorps members with the Oregon Community Action Corps (OCAC) serve individually or in small teams at Continue reading

Kevin Johnson Settles with the Federal Government – Former Corps Must Repay CNCS

Kevin Johnson

Update 6/12/09: For more background regarding the Corporation’s Inspector General Gerald Walpin’s role in the Kevin Johnson controversy, check out this article in Youth Today.

Kevin Johnson, Sacramento’s mayor, former Phoenix Suns point guard and former AmeriCorps program director, has settled with the Feds, clearing the way for Sacramento to receive stimulus funding.

Last fall, I wrote about Kevin Johnson’s missteps as head of an AmeriCorps program in Sacramento. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) accused him of wasting its money and directing corps members to do things clearly outside the bounds of AmeriCorps service.

The controversy didn’t end when he left his nonprofit St. HOPE Academy and its AmeriCorps program Hood Corps; nor when he ran to become mayor of Sacramento; nor when he took office as mayor. In fact, his questionable role with the AmeriCorps program threatened to prevent the city of Sacramento from receiving stimulus funding!

Because the Corporation (a federal organization) had named him in the excluded parties system he was not allowed to Continue reading

Why It’s Wrong to Assume that All Service Participants are Young

How branding national service as an opportunity only for young people does more harm to the movement than good.

Christian Witkin for TIME Magazine

Christian Witkin for TIME Magazine

While many service corps do have upper age limits — City Year, AmeriCorps*NCCC, Public Allies, and many other team-based programs — most programs do not have an upper age limit.

In fact, several programs specifically recruit professionalsExperience Corps, Atlas Corps, CUSO-VSO (the Canadian VSO), Volunteers for Prosperity, and United Nations Volunteers just to name a few. Others like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps*VISTA recruit almost entirely college graduates because of the skill required in carrying out service.

And yet when people speak of service they almost always describe it as an opportunity for young people to give back, receive scholarship money, develop leadership skills, and go an an adventure before settling down with a real job.

What difference does it make if most people think of national or international service as a pursuit for the young?

Here are some reasons:

Recruitment:

If we assume only young people will enlist in a citizen service corps, we won’t recruit new corps members as creatively 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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