NY Times Editorial Voices Strong Support for AmeriCorps

The NY Times logoSaturday, a New York Times editorial argued strongly for full funding of the Kennedy Serve America Act — the appropriation for which will be considered this week in the Senate.

Last week, the House of Representatives appropriated $90M less to implement the Kennedy Serve America Act than Pres. Obama requested in his proposed budget. In response, The New York Times printed an editorial urging Congress to fund the Act which was passed into law in April and could greatly expand the AmeriCorps family of programs and the number Continue reading

Mayor Bloomberg Appoints a City Year Staffer as NYC’s First Chief Service Officer

Photo by Ed Reed, Office of the Mayor

Photo by Ed Reed, Office of the Mayor

This week, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg announced that Diahann Billings-Burford will be New York’s first Chief Service Officer.

Billings-Burford — who’s coming from an external affairs role at City Year New York — will lead an innovative new municipal effort that Bloomberg launched earlier this year called NYC Service.

The initiative promotes volunteering and service, with the goals of making New York “the easiest place in the world to volunteer,” finding ways for volunteers to address the impacts of the economic downturn, and”setting a new standard for how cities can tap the power of their people to tackle our most pressing challenges.”

Billings-Burford’s work will include implementing the agenda spelled out in the NYC Service Report (PDF).

One new project — sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters — is a campaign to bring 2000 new mentors into 51 high needs middle schools through Middle School Mentors. Mentors would spend eight hours a month with a middle school student, “being their friend in Continue reading

Update: National Service Funding in the Stimulus Package

2/11/09: Check out this post about the Senate compromise version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

1/29/09: The Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) offers a legislative update.

But Steve Waldman takes issue with the details of the package.

Nicola Goren, the Acting CEO of CNCS, summarized details of the stimulus package — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — that passed in the House yesterday; and the version that is up for a vote in the Senate.

Regarding the House of Representatives, according to Goren:

Earlier tonight, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, their version of the bill, by a vote of 244-188. The legislation includes $200 million for the Corporation for National and Community Service. According to the House Committee Report, $160 million is provided for AmeriCorps State and National to expand “existing AmeriCorps grants” and $40 million is for the National Service Trust. The committee report cites the challenges facing the nonprofit sector and notes that “nonprofit organizations are also experiencing an increased number of applications for service opportunities and increased demand for services for vulnerable populations to meet critical needs” and suggests the funding would engage an estimated 16,000 more AmeriCorps members.

The bill contains additional legislative language addressing the proposed use of these funds. To read the bill language or committee report, visit the Library of Congress’s Thomas website at http://thomas.loc.gov/ and click on HR1: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 . You can also get the report, the committee-passed version of the bill, and other information from the House Appropriations Committee website at http://appropriations.house.gov/.

And regarding the progress of the Senate’s version of the same bill:

Yesterday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved S. 336, its version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to the committee report, the bill contains $200 million for the Corporation and its programs, broken down as follows:

  • $160 million for AmeriCorps, of which:
    • $65 million for AmeriCorps State and National grants
    • $65 million for AmeriCorps VISTA
    • $13 million for research related to volunteer service
    • $10 million for AmeriCorps NCCC
    • $6 million for upgrades to information technology
    • $1 million for State Commissions
  • $40 million for the National Service Trust

Additional language concerning the intended use of these funds is contained in the bill text and committee report. Both are available now on the Senate Appropriations Committee website at http://appropriations.senate.gov/. To view the bill text, click on Text of S336, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. For the committee report, click on American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan Report.

The next step is for the full Senate to take up the legislation, which is expected to occur next week. Following Senate passage, the House and Senate will meet in a conference to work out differences between the measures. We will keep you posted on further developments.

To read about other potential funding for national service this year, check out the Serve America Act, and this New York Times editorial advocating for its passage.

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Tolerance and Service

Today the New York Times reports findings that “Mutual trust between members of different races can catch on just as quickly, and spread just as fast, as suspicion.” The study has a few implications for service corps.

Working together with a person of another race increases your ease around others of that race. In the article “Tolerance Over Race Can Spread, Study Finds,” author Benedict Carey describes a study that shows that

In some new studies, psychologists have been able to establish a close relationship between diverse pairs — black and white, Latino and Asian, black and Latino — in a matter of hours.

The study involves pairs of people from different races in a variety of activities for four hours.

First they answer a series of questions, designed to get to the bottom of some big issues quickly (like “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”). Next they play on the same team, competing against another pair in “timed parlor games.” In the third section, they talk about issues like what it means to be a part of their ethnic or racial group. And finally they work together in a classic trust exercise, where one person, blindfolded, is led through a maze by the other person.

By the end of their time together, the pair’s relationship “is as close as any relationship the person has,” according to the social psychologist who developed the exercises, Art Aron.

That relationship immediately reduces conscious and unconscious bias in both people, and also significantly reduces prejudice toward the other group in each individual’s close friends.

This extended-contact effect, as it is called, travels like a benign virus through an entire peer group, counteracting subtle or not so subtle mistrust.

Similar increases in tolerance are seen when people of mixed races are working or talking together in a room — others in the room ease up around members of the race group that is different from them.

One reason for the swift increases in tolerance is that we are all motivated to be part of the in-group, whether the in-group includes people of our own race or not.

The study has immediate and diverse implications for service corps.

For service corps programs engaging participants of different races, the activities outlined in the tolerance study may serve as a blue-print for team-building and cross-cultural engagement, where no one person is singled out as “different” but where everyone’s differences are expressed and put to work. The importance of building trust and confidence across race is crucial, for getting things done, as well as for team building.

Further, the study may explain why people who engage in international service have a tendency to come home with a bit of an identity crisis (e.g., I still feel Chinese on the inside though I am not Chinese ethnically) — and why they often express tolerance for racial and cultural differences once they have returned home. Other members of service corps who serve constituents across race or in mixed-race communities tend to experience similar growth in perspective.

Many service corps value diversity and offer opportunities for corps members to dialogue about race and culture.

One resource that groups turn to is books, like that of Eboo Patel, founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Corps. He writes about tolerance and intolerance in his book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim and the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

When I attended a professional development conference called Northwest Leader Corps in 2004-05, we watched and talked about the film The Color of Fear, a very powerful, honest documentary about the role of race in the lives of nine men.

Relationship-building exercises described above would take such a workshop to the next level — it’d be not just educational but also transformational.

Watch the Color of Fear trailer:

Also check out this Lesson Plans blog post by Christina Shunnarah, a teacher in a cross-cultural learning environment.

The tolerance study sounds like great news to me, and I look forward to more good news on race relations to come out over the next several years now that people are paying attention to race in a different way than ever before.