Thursday, February 23, 2017

What AmeriCorps Means to Me

In a few weeks, Congress will meet to approve the 2018 budget. They'll see the millions of dollars that many different federal programs that cost our government and, ultimately, the American people.  Currently, that budget does not include funding for Americorps AT ALL!  

There are multiple statistics that can be rattled off in support of the impact Americorps (service members have volunteered of 1 billion hours of service since it's founding for one!) has on different communities, but I think more important than statistics are the first hand accounts.  I saw the impact that AmeriCorps can have on a community during my two years as a City Year Corps Member. During that time, a few different moments stood out and reminded me why I chose to serve. 

  • During my first year, I was assigned to a first grade classroom.  There were 20 students all of varying academic levels and strengths and weaknesses. My role was to work with the students who were slightly below grade level in literacy and math and provide support so that, by the end of the year, they would meet grade level standards.  One student was having trouble reading and began to just make up stories instead of attempting to read the words on the page. By working with him one-on-one and using different literacy strategies, I was able to bring him up to a first grade reading level by the end of the year. 
  • I also worked with three middle schoolers after school, helping them with their homework.  There were many afternoons where one of my middle schoolers and I did not get along. She didn't want to do her homework, didn't understand why she couldn't go home, and didn't like that I enforced the school rules. Most afternoons were a struggle. On top of that, her mom decided to go back to the Dominican Republic for Christmas and, although she said she would be back shortly after New Years, kept pushing her flight back until she finally returned in March.  During this time, my student's behavior significantly declined as her feelings of neglect deepened. After nine months of tense afternoon meetings, it came time to talk about the following year and how they wouldn't have me to help after school.  This particular student stared down at her homework until I saw a tear drop fall onto the paper.  I realized then that she didn't really need anyone to help her with her homework.  She just really needed someone who was there. 
  • My second year was spent helping set up a City Year site in Jacksonville, Florida.  I served in a ninth grade history classroom, while also providing leadership to a team of 10 first year corps members. I met with four girls for literacy interventions throughout the year.  One student also struggled with attendance.  She played on the soccer team in the fall, so her attendance was great throughout the season, but once soccer was over, her attendance plummeted. After many phone calls home and MANY conversations about how important school is, I began to see a slight increase in the number of days a month she was in school and a decline in the number of days she spent at home.
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My wonderful and inspiring City Year team from Boston!
Two of the ninth graders I worked with who are now ADULTS!
I'm not telling these stories to brag, because there are so many other service members out there who have more impactful stories than these.  My brother Andrew is one of them.  There are also many other Americorps programs besides City Year that are doing incredible and meaningful work throughout our country.  I'm telling them because Americorps is more than just a government funded program.  It is the service members and the partnership they form with the communities in which they serve. 
  • They are the corps members serving disabled veterans, the homeless, and senior populations.
  • They are the corps members providing disaster relief through FEMA. 
  • They are the corps members restoring trails and our national parks.
  • They are the corps members helping to rehabilitate low-income housing. 

The fact that Americorps is at risk to lose it's funding baffles me because Americorps is such a great investment.  For every dollar that the government invests in Americorps, a dollar is matched by both private donations and local governments. That doesn't include the amount of money that is saved by using volunteer hours instead of having to hire employees OR the amount of money saved because of the impact.  For example, the schools I worked at would have hired teaching assistants, after school tutors and recess and cafeteria monitors instead of using City Year Corps Members. On top of that, statistics show that a student who drops out is 6x more likely to end up in prison, costing our nation far more than what Americorps does.  A Columbia University study found that every dollar invested in national service returns nearly $4 in societal benefits in terms of higher earnings, more output and community wide gains. Why would you cut a program that can do all of that?

So, what can you do?  Contact your congressperson and let them know how valuable you think Americorps is. Remind them that, instead of focusing on the amount of money that each program needs to operate efficiently, they look at the impact each program will have if fully funded. I am sure there are places that we can decrease the budget, but I am also sure that Americorps is not one of them!

Here is the link that will show you how to contact your congressperson!

And, just in case you're on the fence about why you should support Americorps programs like City Year, here's a little video to help persuade you!

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I served and saw that service was joy." -Mother Teresa

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