Obama’s Remarks on Signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

Today, President Obama made the following remarks before signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

Barack Obama on national service

The transcript was released by the Office of the White House Press Secretary. Re-play the signing and hear the speech for yourself on CSPAN.

Thank you.  Please be seated.  Thank you.  Well, what an extraordinary day.  It is good to be here with all of you.

I want to, first of all, thank President Bill Clinton for joining us here today — where’s President Clinton? — (applause) — for his lifetime of service to our country, but also the fact that he created AmeriCorps, and that not only made this day possible, it has directly enlisted more than half a million Americans in service to their country; service that has touched the lives of millions more.

Now, it just so happens that one of those people who have been touched by AmeriCorps was FLOTUS, otherwise known as First Lady of the United States — (laughter) — Michelle Obama, who ran a AmeriCorps-sponsored Continue reading

Michelle: the Public Allies Connection

Biography of Michelle Obama offers insights into her work with Public Allies.picture-161

Liza Mundy has recently published her biography of the future first lady called Michelle: A Biography.

USA Today excerpted the book earlier this month. Below are some pieces of that excerpt, regarding both Obamas’s work with the national service corps Public Allies.

If Michelle was helpful to Barack, the converse was also true. In the early 1990s, Barack was on the founding board of Public Allies, a new nonprofit whose mission was to train young people to work in the nonprofit sector, with the hope of producing a fresh generation of public service leaders. The Chicago branch needed an executive director, and Obama suggested Michelle. In 1993, she was hired. Barack resigned from the board before she took over. …

According to Julian Posada, her deputy director at Public Allies, Michelle was as hardworking as her husband. Public Allies would soon become part of the Clinton administration’s AmeriCorps program, and she was determined that the Chicago branch would succeed and excel, which it did. Among other things, she was a zealous money raiser, and left the organization, three years after starting, with cash in the bank. “There was an intensity to her that — you know, this has got to work, this is a big vision, this isn’t easy,” recalls Posada. “Michelle’s intensity was like: we have to deliver.” He was impressed with her sleeves-up attitude. “I’m sure she came from a lot more infrastructure. There was no sense that this was a plush law firm, that’s all gone. It’s like, ‘Who’s going to lick envelopes today?’ Nothing was beneath her.”

One of the first orders of business was recruiting “allies,” young people who picture-17would spend ten months working in homeless shelters, city offices, public policy institutes, and other venues for public service. Allies were recruited from campuses and projects alike. Michelle knocked on doors in Cabrini Green, a notoriously rough public housing project, but also phoned friends to ask if they knew any public-spirited undergrads at Northwestern. “We would get kids from a very very lily-white campus to come sit down with inner-city kids, black, Hispanic, Asian,” says Posada. In addition to recruiting and managing allies, she had to raise funds from Chicago’s well-established foundations, competing with more established charities. As such, she had to be in touch with the old-money world of private philanthropy and the no money world of housing projects, moving easily between almost every world that existed in Chicago. …

Many allies found Michelle inspiring. “You kind of know when you’re in the presence of somebody who is really terrific,” says Jobi Petersen, who was in the first class of Chicago Allies. “I owed a lot to her. She’s really fair, she’s calm, she’s smart, and she’s balanced and she’s funny, she doesn’t take any crap. I get a little bit angry when I hear the thing about her being negative. She is the least negative person I’ve ever met. She is a can-do person.” Peterson remembers a time when “one of the allies was despairing about how difficult things were, or the world wasn’t bending their way, and [Michelle] would come back and say, ‘You know what, today you have to get up and do something you don’t love doing. If it’s helping people, it’s worth it.’ She had a way of making you feel you could do anything. Humor, personal style, warmth, she can be strong and tough and not come across as nega-tive. She’s got timing. She can pass you one look and you’d laugh.”

Public Allies has enjoyed the spotlight since the election due to its history with the Obamas in Chicago. Paul Schmitz, the program’s C.E.O., serves on the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform working group for President-Elect Obama’s transition team.

Public Allies is a 10-month service and leadership program that serves in 15 cities across the United States.  Corps members — called “Allies” — serve with nonprofits and universities to “create, improve and expand services that address diverse issues, including youth development, education, public health, economic development and the environment.”

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Blog Action Day! Combat Poverty as an AmeriCorps*VISTA

As part of Blog Action Day, we are writing about poverty. For us, the choice of what to say is easy enough — VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) has been the anti-poverty service corps since the Lyndon Johnson administration in the mid-60s.

Launched as part of Johnson’s War on Poverty, and influenced by the structure of Peace Corps, VISTAs have worked in a range of ways over the years, called on to tackle the root causes of poverty.

Over 170,000 VISTAs have served since 1965, and VISTAs were instrumental in launching and developing well-known programs such as Head Start, Upward Bound, and even the credit union.

In the 90’s VISTA became a branch of Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, so it’s called AmeriCorps*VISTA now.

This is from the promotional booklet VISTA: In Service to America (PDF):

[VISTAs] have established health clinics, neighborhood watches, and computer training programs. They have formed many of our nation’s literacy programs, along with Upward Bound, Head Start programs, and adult education initiatives. Parents who want to work or to develop a skill can send their children to after-school clubs, athletics, and day care centers run by VISTA members. VISTA service has led to urban renewal programs and neighborhood beautification. Most importantly, many programs established by VISTA members continue long after they complete their service.

What makes VISTA different from other service corps?

Indirect service. AmeriCorps*VISTA service is indirect service, meaning that VISTAs are limited in the number of hours they are funded to work directly with clients. (You won’t often see VISTAs tutoring children, though they may very well run the tutoring program. You won’t see them building trails, though they may recruit the volunteers who do, or find the funding for the equipment the volunteers need.)

Capacity building. AmeriCorps*VISTA projects are spelled out clearly in work plans, and must expand the ability of the organization or agency to meet its mission and serve its clients. An example might be building a volunteer program structure at a drug treatment center, or securing grants that will extend the school lunch program through the summer in apartment complexes where families with low incomes live.

Sustainability. AmeriCorps*VISTA projects are usually 1-3 years in length (and can be run by a different VISTA each year, each VISTA building on the achievements of the person before). By the end of the third year, the project should be made sustainable in some way — through, for example, finding renewable revenue streams, or training organizational staff to maintain the program.

Anti-poverty. The AmeriCorps*VISTA project must be a proactive intervention into the cycle of poverty, with an aim to end it by tackling poverty’s root causes.

But what are the root causes of poverty?

According to Project Homeless Connect, they are:

  1. A family history of poverty. People born poor are most at risk of staying that way due to a range of issues like poor self esteem, abuse, and lowered emphasis on education.
  2. Chronic poverty which may include physical and mental disabilities without adequate health care, that make it impossible to work. Substance abuse. Elderly people who can no longer support themselves.
  3. Limited economic opportunity like high unemployment rates and few job prospects. Most common in rural  areas and where employers are paying only minimum wage.
  4. Lack of educational opportunities that are offered where and when needed, and that help people make the connection to a career.
  5. Racial and cultural isolation and discrimination that create barriers to self-sufficiency.
  6. Family chaos and strife, including divorce, parenting solo, and parents who deprive each other and their children of love and support, who are abusive, who abandon their children, who don’t bond with their young children.
  7. Limited social capital like “trust, good will, fellowship, social interactions, and community involvement.” Low awareness among people with low incomes about how to engage governmental institutions.
  8. Communities lacking an awareness of poverty so that solutions can be found.
  9. Catastrophic life events, especially when a family is already on the edge of poverty.

Would you add any others to this list?

And we’ll let the Corporation take us out, with this t.v. ad about VISTA:

Read more about Blog Action Day, and listen and call-in to BlogTalkRadio which is hosting a special live radio show from 9 am to 9 pm PST (Portland) time on Wednesday, October 15.

Read these Blog Action Day posts regarding poverty and other service corps:

Ode Magazine’s Reader Blog – Laura Portalupi reminisces about poverty and Peace Corps South Africa

Indiana VISTA Blog – Jenna reflects on confronting poverty as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member