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.

Service Nation Summit on Friday afternoon

After the Town Hall, Chris Dodd was to speak:

Michael Brown, co-founder of City Year, introduces RPCV Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT).

Chris Dodd, in his opening remarks, says that he has spoken with Ted Kennedy and that Kennedy apologizes for not being here. Dodd announces that he has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Servce America Act. Our candidates are stronger because they have served their country: McCain in the military, and Obama in his community. Their examples of service remind us that who or how or where you serve, but that you serve. Sited the value to his life and values of his own Peace Corps service. Founded the bipartisan National Service Congressional Caucus in the Senate and introduced the Summer of Service legislation. We can’t write a check at all of our problems, but we can invest more in service. We spend in Iraq on one day what we spend all year on AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. We must translate our ideas into action, and change our country. Talk about what we can and must do as a nation, and the role national service plays in helping us accomplish our goals.

In an interview after the speech, Dodd said that we aren’t emphasizing enough how well the investment national service programs leverages community volunteers and resources, and facilitates the growth of strong communities, that would be far more expensive without national service Corps members. When I asked him about the challenge of keeping the spotlight on national service, he said he was committed to doing his part in the Senate and pointed to his emphasis on the movement during his presidential campaign this year.

Also see Building Bi-Partisan Support, a panel discussion with Dodd, following Dodd’s speech.

Grad school for social change

This week, the Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good kick off the 2008 fall tour on September 10th in New York City!

(Please note that due to the Service Nation Summit‘s Presidential Candidates’s Forum on Sept. 11 at Columbia, the venue for the NY fair has changed!)

The fairs bring together graduate schools that focus on positive societal change, and public service professionals– like you? –who want more education to further their careers.

If you are thinking about grad school, it’s one of the best ways we can think of to meet staff from some of the country’s top schools in degrees ranging from nonprofit & business management and social work, to public policy & administration, public interest law, public health, journalism, international affairs and more.

If you don’t live near one of the cities where the fairs will come this year, check out the Idealist.org Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center with lots of resources for going back to school. Read here for information specifically for service corps alumni.

Looking for experience before going to grad school?

Graduate admissions staff recognize service corps programs as a great way to get valuable, practical experience in the field to prepare for grad school.

If you are considering participating in a service program, know that several programs have benefits that await you after you are finished with your term.

Programs funded through AmeriCorps offer the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; the amount varies depending on the term of service, but a full term typically means $4,725. (The amount hasn’t been increased in a over a decade, though RPCV Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) and others in Congress are working to rectify that with the AmeriCorps Act of 2008.) The ed award is held by the National Service Trust until you are ready to use it, and can go towards tuition at most schools, or for student loans. Dozens of grad schools match the ed award so that your award may be doubled if you enroll at those schools.

Teach For America, an AmeriCorps program, has also fostered partnerships with many top graduate schools around the country that benefit TFA Corps members through application deferments, scholarships and ed award matches, and application fee waivers.

As we have written about before on this blog, Peace Corps also has two programs, Masters International and Fellows USA. The latter is specifically for people who have returned from Peace Corps service already.

A pretty good comparison (including education benefits) of some of the more famous service corps programs can be found in Chapter Five (PDF) of the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers. Also check out Equal Justice Works blog about public interest law. Other associations of social-impact grad schools can be found among Idealist’s grad fair cosponsors.

Do you know of other benefits for service corps alumni not mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them!

Also Idealist is still looking for grad school bloggers! Click here to see if blogging for us sounds compelling to you!

Also note that many grad schools offer benefits to service corps alumni that aren’t through official partnerships with the service programs. It’s always a good idea to ask at your target institution.