Service can put new leaders on star ‘trek’

This article is from the Special Report “2012: The End Of The World Or Nonprofit Renaissance?”


I’m not buying the “end-of-days” hype. I’m fully confident the Mayan Calendar will join the list of dubious doom predictions, alongside Harold Camping’s end of the world timing in 1994 or May 21, 2011, no, wait, Oct. 21, 2011, the hysteria of the Y2K computer failures, and those classic National Enquirer cover stories from the supermarket checkout line. But since we’re talking predictions, here’s where I think we’re going as a sector and as a country.

There’s a new wave of critics on the value of national service, as the (Mayan) calendar turns to 2012, with some in the House of Representatives advancing a zero budget going forward for AmeriCorps. That is not a very good idea. Its not very good for our country, especially for a generation of young Americans who want to serve their nation, and who will one day lead this country.

Is it the end of the world? No, although it certainly feels like a re-run of a bad sitcom. National service will endure and we’ll be thankful it does as a generation of nonprofit leaders, elected officials, and entrepreneurs ascend with a common career arc that is rooted in volunteerism and defined by national service.

More than 700,000 Americans have served in AmeriCorps since 1994. For 1,700 hours in service to the country this year, a member gets $5,550 toward loan repayment or future education. That’s a good investment in our future workforce and future leaders. Best of all, it represents a $2.01 return in essential services for every federal dollar, nearly unmatched when analyzing government spending.

This generation is remarkably interested in volunteering and service. And the market demand is astounding, with more than 500,000 young Americans applying for only 80,000 available positions in AmeriCorps. That’s a clear indicator that we should invest in the growth of AmeriCorps as outlined in the bipartisan Serve America Act of 2008 – not eliminate it.

The National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), well known for response to disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the Joplin, Mo., tornadoes, is a mobile, team-based AmeriCorps program that serves in all 50 states every year and consistently has acceptance rates of 10 to 20 percent for its 1,000 annual slots. Many other programs tell a similar story. Don’t believe it? Follow #AmeriCorps on Twitter tonight as rising seniors in high school and college fret over whether there will be an opening available for them in AmeriCorps after graduation.

National service has been consistently bipartisan, from President George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” to President Bill Clinton’s National and Community Service Trust Act to President George W. Bush’s USA Freedom Corps through President Barack Obama and the bipartisan Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act. It’s a concept with roots in the turn of the 19th century – when Alexis de Tocqueville admired how groups of Americans worked together for the health of a democratic society.

National service is principally grounded in the spirit of the republic, in the ethos of democracy, the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, and the philosophy of blood, sweat and tears. For the nonprofit sector, AmeriCorps alumni represent a paradigm shift, an opportunity to harness on-the-ground experience into a massive new leadership generation. School leadership and education reform in this country will continue to be buoyed by individuals trained in AmeriCorps programs such as Teach For America and Citizen Schools. We are reimagining urban housing and neighborhood revitalization by effectively marshaling the talents and experiences of Youth Build and ReBuilding Together AmeriCorps alumni.

Community Health Corps and VISTA are utilizing AmeriCorps members in the most underserved neighborhoods, and propelling graduates on a trajectory towards medical, nursing, and public health educations and training.

Want to make sure the world doesn’t end in 2012? Call your elected officials and tell them how valuable you think AmeriCorps is to the nation. Better yet, tell five people in your social circle to do the same. Then, go out and hire an AmeriCorps Alum. Give them too much responsibility in your organization, watch them thrive and see the sage investment of the American public pay-off. NPT

Ben Duda is the executive director of AmeriCorps Alums in Atlanta, Ga. His email is bduda@PointsofLight.org