Friday, February 25, 2011

Save Service in America


I don't make a practice of mass e-mailing people, but a program that I hold very near & dear to my heart is facing a very real threat to its existence, and I'd like to ask for a moment of your time. I'll keep it (semi-)short, I promise.

A bill recently passed through the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 1) that proposes to strip the Corporation for National and Community Service of all its federal funding. (You may have heard about this bill in the news, as it's the same bill that proposes cuts to PBS, Pell Grants, community health centers, and many other worthy programs.) The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) was formed to engage Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service to meet community needs through a wide array of volunteer opportunities (educational, environmental, public health & safety, homeland security, etc.), and it's the umbrella organization for AmeriCorps, Senior Corps (Foster Grandparents, Retired Senior Volunteer Program), and Learn & Serve America. Basically, what they all do is match up volunteers with local organizations that need help, and enable those organizations to meet specific community needs that they might otherwise not be able to fulfill.

I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Helena, Montana for two years right after I got out of college, as I think you all know (heck, I served with a lot of you!). I worked with an extraordinary group of people from all across the country, ranging in age from 18 to 75, helping local organizations build so many crucial things around the state - literacy tutoring programs, health programs for at-risk kids, computer literacy projects, legal services centers for the poor...the list goes on and on. Despite our many differences in age, background, political preferences and ideologies, what we all had in common was that we wanted to help make America a better place by rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands a little dirty. The pay was terrible, but the experience was priceless.

And the coolest part is, my experiences in Montana are replicated in every state in the country, every day. Right here in my hometown, there are AmeriCorps members creating a mentoring program in the local schools...AmeriCorps VISTAs building a sustainable community garden on the Bad River Indian Reservation...Foster Grandparents and RSVP members donating their time at the Ashland Senior Center. I'll bet if you look around your town, you'll find people and organizations benefiting from CNCS, too!

These proposed cuts to the CNCS budget would be devastating to AmeriCorps and its sister programs. More troubling is the fact that the federal investment made in faith-based and community organizations through CNCS leverages approximately $799 million in matching funds from companies, foundations and other sources...so if these national service programs are defunded, whole organizations may be forced to shut down. Given the current economic crisis, some of those may not be able to stay open, at the very time record numbers of people are relying on them for food, shelter, health care and other services. I understand that this is a time when belts must be tightened, but I truly feel that this is a worthwhile, cost-effective use of federal dollars and would much rather see it face budget cuts than total eradication.

Friends of national service are banding together for a "Save Service Day" on Friday, February 25th, and if you're interested in showing support for AmeriCorps and the other programs under the knife, here are three easy things you can do to help:

1. Sign the Save AmeriCorps petition;

2. Contact your Senator to tell them restore funding for CNCS in their version of H.R. 1; and

3. Check out how these cuts would specifically impact your state in terms of dollars and services lost - you can even personalize those handouts and mail them in to your representatives.

Thank you so much for your time, and I promise not to send out another one of these for a loooooong time.

Mary


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