Guest editorial: Why national service mattersPublished 11:59pm Friday, February 25, 2011
Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
“Think Globally Act Locally” is my favorite bumper sticker. Yes, I am one of those people who like to put my opinions on my car for all to see. And that is what we do when we fund the Corporation for National Service — we put a bumper sticker on our government that says “Volunteering is an American value.”
Volunteers built this country and our democracy. Throughout our history, people from all walks of life have gathered with other citizens around their kitchen tables and decided to do something about community problems. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you sit on, the ideal that each and every person can have an impact through their vote and through their volunteerism is considered an American value.
HR 1, which recently passed in the House of Representatives, eliminates all funding for the Corporation for National Service. At a time when local, state and the federal governments are asking us all to make sacrifices, is this a sacrifice we want to make? If you value the concept of National Service, I urge you to contact your representatives and let them know that you do not want the Corporation for National Service shut down.
The Corporation for National Service provides funding for a variety of programs including AmeriCorps, which provides a minimal living stipend for a year of service.
This is not a jobs program, but at a time when we are still coming out of the recession, both young college grads and those forced into early retirement have found a way to survive with dignity and with an enthusiasm for what is good in our communities. Young people are building skills and values that will make them volunteer leaders for the rest of their lives no matter what they do in their careers.
Senior Corps is another program that provides $2.65 per hour stipend to low-income seniors for volunteering in our schools and taking care of other seniors. They volunteer 20 hours a week and this stipend not only makes volunteering affordable (they can pay for the gas to get to their volunteer positions) but also helps pay for medicines and heat.
Every day we rely more on nonprofits and volunteers to provide essential services. The Corporation for National Service is an investment that saves our country money in the long run by supporting and building a culture of volunteerism and the building of volunteer infrastructure. It is money that saves money.
These are monies invested in our people, in our communities. During the 2009-2010 program year in Michigan 1,235 AmeriCorps members served more than 600,000 hours and recruited more than 24,000 additional volunteers. In addition 13,767 seniors participated in Michigan’s Senior Corps contributing more than 3.5 million hours of service in programs such as Foster Grandparents. The rewards for local communities benefiting from their services are many but the true impact is on the individual scale. The at risk child whose foster grandparent helps him improve his reading and makes him feel special benefits in ways that last a lifetime.
When I graduated from college the Corporation for National Service didn’t exist so I served in the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is called the Peace Corps because its goal is to promote peace throughout the world by giving Americans and peoples in developing countries a chance to know each other on a one-on-one basis. My two years of service were a foundational experience in my life personally and professionally.
AmeriCorps is called “Ameri — Corps” because it is Americans serving other Americans. It builds understanding of the challenges our communities face and builds the capacity for those serving to not only to address these issues over the course of their year of service but throughout the rest of their lives.
If you value the concept of national service, I urge you to contact your representatives and let them know that you do not want the Corporation for National Service shut down. Let them know that your bumper sticker says “volunteering is an American value.”
Doris Higgins is the executive director of the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan. The Mission of the Volunteer Center is to promote, support and connect volunteers working to build a strong, caring community. Its vision is that “everyone volunteers!” Cutback may be needed but eliminating the only national organization that makes it possible for everyone to volunteer will not result in true cost savings but in additional costs.