RPCV Senator Dodd Introduces More Peace Corps Bill

This week, RPCV Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced s.1382, the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009.

The bill, as currently written, would authorize $450,000,000 for fiscal year 2010; $575,000,000 for fiscal year 2011; and $700,000,000 for fiscal year 2012 — representing a gradual increase to double Peace Corps’s current budget. The bill also requires the agency director carry out assessments that lead to a new strategic plan. (As of now, Obama hasn’t appointed a new Peace Corps director, Jody Olsen serves as Acting Director.)

Read the legislation (PDF). After it was introduced, the bill was sent to the Committee on Foreign Relations. (Is your Senator a member of this committee?)

Here is the transcript of Dodd’s speech on the floor of the Senate Thursday. Thanks to Jonathan Pearson at the National Peace Corps Association for this text:

Mr. President:

I rise today to introduce the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009.

For 48 years, the Peace Corps has stood as a uniquely American institution.  What other great nation would Continue reading

What Happened to Getting Rid of the Taxes on the Education Award?

Institutions that Match the Ed AwardWhen the various bills that became the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act were in play, there was talk about eliminating the taxes from the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

In case you are new to national service, the education award is the post-service benefit received by AmeriCorps and VISTA members that can help them pay for educational expenses and/or student loans. It’s considered taxable income.

It was never the Kennedy bill but rather a separate bill introduced by Senator Dodd of Connecticut that would have ended the tax on the education award. Late in the process, elements of Dodd’s national service bills were incorporated into the Serve America Act. However, the elimination of the taxes on the education award was not one of those elements. The tax remains.

I called Senator’s Dodd office last week and asked a staffer if there were any plans to follow through with Continue reading

Summer of Service Creates Positive Alternatives for Middle School Students

Picture 2

Today’s guest contributor is the ICP Summer of Service Fellow Joshua Truitt.

On Tuesday, April 21, 2009, President Obama took a tremendous stride toward supporting youth civic engagement in the United States by signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. Included in the legislation is funding for a new innovative program called Summer of Service (SOS).

A national SOS program — to help communities create positive alternatives for middle school students during summer vacations — was first proposed by Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP), an organization committed to increasing youth service opportunities in the United States and abroad. In the summer months, the lack of constructive activities and opportunities for young people often results in academic decline, risky behavior and an increased likelihood of failing to make the transition to high school. Yet, when young people participate in service activities they are better able to control their own lives in a positive way, avoid risky behaviors, strengthen their community connections and become more engaged in their own education.

A national SOS will enable a large number of young teens to participate in service as a “rite of passage” from middle to Continue reading

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

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

Service For All

RPCV Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced four bills that, taken together, emphasize access to service for people of all ages.

The legislators have called their initiative the Service for All Ages Initiative and it includes:

The Summer of Service Act would offer students making the transition from middle to high school an opportunity to participate in a structured community service program over the summer months. 100 hours of service would earn Continue reading

Service Nation Summit: Building Bi-Partisan Support

Notes from the panel discussion Building Bi-Partisan Support

See the Change/Wire post 10/29/08.

Friday afternoon, I attended a session on Building Bi-Partisan Support for national service.

Introductory remarks:

RPCV Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): Service alters your life in ways you can’t imagine, and the lives of the people you serve. Domestic service isn’t just about doing good and feeling good. It’s practical. For every dollar put out through national service, we save four or five dollars. The provider, the community, the tax-payer all benefit. That is how we convince Congress.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (NY): When she was first a member of Congress (after 30 years as a nurse), she started out serving in a committee that she was elected to, but that she didn’t know that much about. Started to look at re-authorizing the Give Act, she was amazed because she didn’t know that it existed. She knew a lot of people who were giving their time but they weren’t communicating among each other. Legislation is impossible without bipartisan support.

Rob Portman, Former Republican Congressional Representative from Ohio and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget. We must publicize ways to measure the value of service. Must demonstrate the value when there are competing priorities and a deficit. Government leverages service and volunteerism. Provides matching grants to coalitions. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have served. We have results. For example in Cincinnati, the anti-drug campaign has been successful. If AmeriCorps were a government program from Washington it wouldn’t have worked. Because of the grassroots ownership AmeriCorps is successful.

Giselle John, Public Allies Alumna. (Excellent speaker, so inspirational. She fills up the room with her

Public Allies Alumna Giselle John

Public Allies Alumna Giselle John

passion.)  She says she is a return on that Federal investment in communities (national service funding). Says her job on the panel is to be the living testimony of the value of national service. “It’s a conversation worth having.” When she found Public Allies New York, she was aging out of foster care, held down a $5.15 an hour job, was going to be homeless — again — because she couldn’t afford to rent a place. Public Allies bridged the gap between foster care and her public service career. Public Allies helped her learn to serve her community. Annie E. Casey Foundation consultant serving three county sites working on foster care issues. (Throughout the Summit, the most impressive speakers have been the national service alumni, from Mallory Josol, to Chris Dodd, to Giselle. Nice going, Alums!)

AnnMaura Connolly, Sr. Vice President, Public Policy and Special Initiatives, City Year. How we build support is by sharing stories, understanding the impact on the Corps members as well as the people they serve. We haven’t done a good enough job of sharing stories of participants and communities. During times when AmeriCorps funding has been threatened, it clearly revealed what would happen if AmeriCorps funding were pulled out. An example is Giselle John telling her story. Alumni can tell their story more powerfully than anyone else.

Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) Don’t give up on Republicans because it won’t happen without them. If any party should promote public service, it should be Republicans. Rush Lumbaugh scoffs at the idea of paying volunteers; he feels if you pay them they won’t do it for free. But look at alumni and what they are doing. One paid volunteer can leverage thousands of unpaid volunteers. Don’t assume members of Congress know what you are talking about with respect to how national service works and how AmeriCorps is funded. Show respect and explain it to them.

Moderator: At the Republican National Convention, day two was “Service Day” and day three was “Mock Community Organizing Day.” As McCain pointed out at the Service Nation Summit Presidential Forum, Columbia University encourages some service but doesn’t have on-campus opportunities to choose Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Is the bi-partisan support problem that of language? Can we come up with a definition of service that can resonate with all of us?

Carolyn McCarthy called the nonprofit sector the knitting of the community. So as a member of Congress she works with nonprofits. If national service proponents can win over the Congressional staff, the staff will get to the Member of Congress. Everyday McCarthy said she would go across the aisle and explain what she was trying to do to Republicans, until they began to understand and come on board.

Chris Dodd said it’s not about how you vote (in agreement with, or against) another Senator, it’s about the relationship with another Senator. A disappointment these days is that Congress can’t functions on a level of community because the community doesn’t have time to build. It used to Senators got paid for one round trip home per year, and because of that, they got to know others in the Senate. He said, you went to Washington and you stayed. Now people come in for part of the week and fly home; they don’t know each other that well. (This statement makes me wonder: When did this start to change; can we trace the current gridlock we see currently to this trend?) Fast food analogy: if two major fast food chains destroy each other by running constant commercials about how unhealthy and disgusting each other’s food is, all that happens is the industry of fast food will self-destruct. No one would want to eat fast food anymore. Same thing is happening in politics. People are losing their interest in either side.

Moderator: The Corporation for National and Community Service recently released a study that show that two-thirds of AmeriCorps Alums have entered nonprofit and public sector careers. Does this trend resonate with both sides?

AnnMaura Connolly says we need people in every sector who understand community issues. Private companies, academia, etc.

Moderator: In a time of rising deficits, how do we make national service a must-fund agenda?

Rob Portman says that we use national service to meet needs we have to meet anyway, in a more cost effective way.

Chris Dodd says that the government merely creates the architecture so that volunteer work can be rewarded. It’s a mosaic of organizations that grows and manages the programs rather than the government trying to manage everything.