Abortion Services and Referral Added to List of AmeriCorps Prohibited Activities

A little talked-about change in the Serve America Act that recently passed into law includes a new “prohibited activity” for AmeriCorps members.

A new category has been added to the list of prohibited activities in the new law that will take affect October 1: AmeriCorps staff and members will be barred from “providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services.” The category seems to be included in order to quell the concerns of conservative groups that Federal funding will go to support abortions since, for example, Planned Parenthood chapters often host AmeriCorps members to work on public health education topics.

Check out the full text of the legislation.

And a word on prohibited activities which seem to confuse people unfamiliar with national service to no end.

While charging time to the AmeriCorps program, accumulating service or training hours, or otherwise performing activities supported by the AmeriCorps program or the Corporation for National and Community Service, staff and all Continue reading

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Yikes! Kevin Johnson and AmeriCorps Prohibited Activities

Update June 12, 2009: Check out this article from Youth Today, for background information on the connection between the Kevin Johnson controversy and CNCS’s Inspector General Gerald Walpin, removed from his position by Obama this week.

Sometimes site supervisors who host AmeriCorps members don’t quite get it

Kevin Johnson, former Phoenix Suns point guard, is in trouble with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

According to the LA Times, the Corporation is suspending funding for St. HOPE Academy’s Neighborhood Corps pending allegations that its AmeriCorps members have been instructed to take part inĀ  activities outside the scope of the program’s contract with the Corporation. Johnson founded the organization 19 years ago, and stepped down as CEO in June to devote energy to his mayoral campaign.

The LA Times reports that Johnson allegedly enlisted AmeriCorps members to wash his car and drive him to appointments, among other menial tasks that AmeriCorps members are not only not funded to do, but are usually annoyed when asked to do.

An AmeriCorps member is similar to a human resource grant, and as with a monetary grant, must be engaged according to the grant’s guidelines. When organizations write a grant proposal to request funding for AmeriCorps members, they must spell out clearly what the members will spend their time doing. The Corporation also has very specific focus areas that it funds, such as mobilizing volunteers, and bringing postive changes to the lives of children and youth through mentoring and tutoring.

(Further, all AmeriCorps members are prohibited from providing direct benefit to a partisan political organization, attempting to influence legislation, organizing or engaging in protests, participating in union organizing, and other things.)

Occasionally, an AmeriCorps member’s supervisor or colleague doesn’t understand the restrictions of a member’s service. In these cases, members (or AmeriCorps program staff) have to clarify these boundaries with the agencies they serve with and for. A classic example is an officemate who asks an AmeriCorps member to make photocopies for projects unrelated to the member’s service.

Usually the request is made innocently enough, because the staff member isn’t educated about the perameters of AmeriCorps service.

But it’s a tough position for the AmeriCorps member to be in, because they often like and respect their colleagues, want a good reference from the host agency, and want to be a team player.

Johnson, who has won awards for his community service achievements, is running for mayor in Sacramento, his hometown.

Neighborhood (or Hood) Corps’ mission is to empower youth and to “recruit, train and mobilize young adults to become civic leaders committed to revitalizing inner-city communities” as an alternative to gang participation. Despite the controversy, it is an example of a program that transforms the lives of the AmeriCorps members as much as it transforms the lives of its clients.

11/05/08 Update: Kevin Johnson won the Sacramento mayoral race.

Setting the record straight on Public Allies

So lately I have noticed a lot of bizarre references to Public Allies in the blogosphere. Barack and Michelle Obama were involved with the Chicago program, so it’s pretty obvious the attacks have been politically motivated.

For example, one blogger referred to Public Allies participants as a “band of taxpayer-supported social misfits.” Another says of the program: “its real mission is to radicalize American youth and use them to bring about ‘social change’ through threats, pressure, tension and confrontation….” According to one, the national service program is connected to a “boot camp for radicals who hate the military.”

So after coming across so many offensive references to Public Allies (a group that has co-sponsored our Idealist.org graduate admissions fairs for several years), I am glad to see this note in the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s web site shedding some light on the attacks. For more information, read the fact sheet Public Allies posted on its site about its relationship with the Obamas.

Participants in national service programs are prohibited from taking part in political activity during service hours or while wearing the AmeriCorps logo. Here is a good summary of other prohibited activities for AmeriCorps from the Serve Illinois web site. Further, people of all political backgrounds are inspired to become involved in their communities and take part in national service.

The conversation about the Service Nation Summit this week has been forcefully nonpartisan, people of all political ideologies will be involved with the event, and Summit volunteers have been encouraged to keep the conversation neutral. I get it that people who are in favor of smaller government resent the notion of government-funded volunteer programs, but I regret the tone these blogs are taking against citizen service.