The First Gathering of VISTAs at the White House – 45 Years Ago Today

This past week my friend Rich lent me a copy of a book called Warriors for the Poor by William Crook and Ross Thomas, published in 1968, which tells the story of one of our first national service corps, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

Inspired by the Peace Corps as a way to improve the lives of people in poverty here at home, and initiated several decades after the Civilian Conservation Corps (a public works corps during the Depression years), the VISTA experiment had its share of champions and doubters.

Some doubters didn’t believe U.S. citizens would sign up — but as the numbers of applicants rose throughout the 60s, those doubts were forgotten. Other doubters worried that the corps would be marketed as a glossy panacea to all a community’s woes, and that it would duplicate volunteer efforts on the ground, and that it would unnecessarily bypass a state’s government for approval.

In 1963, still under the Kennedy administration, the first legislation that would have created a National Service Corps or a Domestic Peace Corps barely passed in the Senate, and died in the House Rules Committee.

But in 1964 it finally passed as part of the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, as a volunteer corps that would help to tackle poverty at the grassroots level, and at the invitation of local communities with the approval of state governors. Last night I read that the first group of VISTAs was received at the White House on Dec. 12, 1964 — exactly 45 years ago today.

Today VISTA is one branch of the AmeriCorps network of service corps overseen by the Corporation for National and Continue reading

For Corps Members: Free or Low-Cost Gift Ideas for People You Love

homemade soap, wrapped in cloth

Giving gifts when you are a corps member.

Last year I wrote about how people can show love to the corps member in their life through their holiday gift-giving. This year I wanted to offer some ideas about how corps members themselves can give gifts when their incomes are often incredibly limited.

I asked The New Service contributors and currently serving corps participants Marissa Pherson of AmeriCorps VISTA and Leslie Dolland of Health Corps to share their thoughts, too. Here are the ideas we’ve collectively come up with.

Setting the Stage for Frugal Gift Exchange

If you are gathering many other corps members, extended family, or among a group of old friends, consider throwing a White Elephant party swapping gifts doesn’t have to be expensive when you’re swapping things you already own.

If you are exchanging gifts individually with others — your partner, close friends, family members, and/or fellow corps members — consider setting some ground rules such as: Continue reading

Alan Khazei, City Year Co-Founder, Running for the Senate in Massachusetts — Election in Two Weeks

Update, Dec. 9: Although Alan Khazei gained the endorsements of many prominent people and even The Boston Globe, he was defeated at the polls during the Democratic primary Dec. 8th, by Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Attorney General. Khazei won 13 percent of the popular vote during yesterday’s election.

Among the hopefuls to fill Ted Kennedy’s long-held Senate seat is City Year founder Alan Khazei.

Alan Khazei, from his campaign website

Twenty years ago Alan Khazei and Michael Brown co-founded City Year, a national service corps that became a model for AmeriCorps in the early 90s. Today, Khazei is campaigning his heart out in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat left empty on August 25th when Senator Ted Kennedy passed away from a brain tumor.

Khazei had worked closely with Senator Kennedy to create and garner Congressional support for several pieces of legislation for national service programs, including the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1990, AmeriCorps, Save AmeriCorps, and this year’s landmark Kennedy Serve America Act.

On other issues, Khazei stands with Kennedy’s positions as well, including his sense that No Child Left Behind — Continue reading

Eli Segal Fellowship 2009-2010: Accepting Applications through July 31

Presigious fellowship is open for a former AmeriCorps member to serve one year at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Eli Segal

Eli Segal

Eli Segal Fellows help to advance the mission of national service and the strategic goals of the Corporation. One Fellow will be selected each year who will work closely with the CEO on projects that benefit the national service field, advancing their career development and gaining a first-hand understanding of national service and the workings of a federal agency. Fellows serve for one year and earn $27,079 with full benefits, including health insurance, leave, and retirement benefits.

The Eli Segal Fellowship was established by the Corporation for National and Community Service, to

“Honor Eli Segal… a key architect of the 1993 national service legislation and served as the first CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. As CEO he successfully launched AmeriCorps and managed the creation of a new federal agency that united the Continue reading

AmeriCorps Video and Photo Contest 2009

picture-21During the month of May, current and formerAmeriCorps members can enter award-worthy videos and photos to the annual contest that shows off their skill in getting things done.

For the video contest, your task is to create a 60-second video that AmeriCorps programs can use in future recruitment efforts. The film can feature live action, animation, or any thing else you can think of as long as it’s not offensive. You can take a look at past winners from 2007 and 2008.

You can vote for the winning video, from the five finalists, between June 15 and July 6. Learn more about how the video contest will be judged.

For the photo contest, you’ve got to capture the impact of AmeriCorps in one shot. Take a look at the guided questions here, Continue reading

Inclusive Interviewing for National and Community Service Programs

Via magnusfranklin's Flickr photostream

Via magnusfranklin's Flickr photostream

As applications to join your service program increase, and the interview process continues, this is the perfect time to brush-up on information regarding inclusive interviewing.

As a result of feedback from the field, the National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) will be providing an informative and interactive discussion to guide you in conducting inclusive interviews.

What are questions that you can and can’t ask? What if someone discloses a disability on their application or during an interview? What are strategies to ensure that all applicants know your agency provides reasonable accommodations?

Please be a part of this presentation and discussion about conducting inclusive interviews both in-person and at a distance.

Join us on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 from 3 PM – 4 PM EST (2 PM Central, 1 PM Mountain, 12 PM Pacific).

Our presenters this month are both from the National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) (see their biographies, below): Continue reading

The Signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

SAA signingToday President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. It will take affect October 1 of this year. Read more about the Act.

During one of the most exciting National Volunteer Weeks in recent memory, President Obama and national service supporters gathered today at the SEED School in Washington, D.C., an academic and boarding charter school.

At the signing, Obama said, our “government cannot do everything alone,” but needs the help of citizens in local communities everywhere. And national service isn’t just for recent college graduates (watch news footage from AARP.) Sounding Whitman-esque, he called people every where to “Put your shoulder to the wheel” of service — and if you do, you can look back on the “moment when your own story and the American story converged.”

Michelle Obama and Bill ClintonHe also recognized Bill Clinton for launching AmeriCorps during his administration, and the First Lady Michelle Obama who was the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, a national service program.

Obama went on to talk about the long legacy of service contributed by the Kennedy family including Ted Kennedy, for whom the legislation is now named.

He also introduced Maria Eitel his nominee for the new chief executive post at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Acting C.E.O. Nicola Goren.

The bill re-authorizes CNCS and its programs through 2014, and authorizes sweeping expansion of national service (with a nod Continue reading