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Instead of cutting community-service funding, Congress should create more opportunities to serve

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
We should be creating more opportunities for people of all ages to serve.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson welcomed the first group of 20 VISTA volunteers, saying, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor will also be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort, and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” Those words hold true today as we plan the 50th anniversary event, and last fall celebrated the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. Today, VISTA is a part of the AmeriCorps program.

Jim Scheibel

This week congressional budget committees are considering a dramatic reduction (about one-third) to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which operates AmeriCorps, the Senior Corps, and other community-building initiatives. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 would cripple the ability to fulfill unmet community needs. The cuts are disproportionate. A wise budget would increase the opportunities for service and get us back on track to meet the goals set in the Kennedy Service America Act of 2009: 250,000 members a year by 2017.

These cuts mean fewer students mentored, fewer veterans benefiting from job training, and fewer boots on the ground in communities recovering and rebuilding after natural disasters.

In Minnesota, here are just some examples of the public work done by volunteers and supported by CNCS: In southern Minnesota, AmeriCorps members are coaches and champions for early childhood school readiness; in Minneapolis Public Schools, members are tutoring middle-school students; in multiple sites throughout the state, the Green Corps is providing education and promoting “green living” strategies; the Reading and Math Corps are helping students succeed in school; and the Opportunity Corps is assisting individuals with economic barriers to become more self-sufficient.

There would be an impact on the Minnesota Senior Corps as well. In 2014, 13,717 Minnesota volunteers served. Foster Grandparents made a lasting difference in the lives of children and youth, Senior Companions supported elderly individuals who have difficulty with daily tasks, and RSVP volunteers strengthened our communities in many ways.

At Hamline University, we encourage our students to serve. In the fall, we hold a fair so students can see the many ways they can give back to the community and make a difference. Each year, my first-year students have a conversation with Harris Wofford, an adviser to President John F. Kennedy and former CEO of CNCS, and after hearing Harris, they ask the right question, “Where will I serve?” and not “Should I serve?”

We should be creating more opportunities for people of all ages to serve.

Visiting with our Minnesota delegation, I am very pleased to report that national service is not a partisan issue, and they view service as a responsible citizenship. We should join together in letting our members know that now is the time to say “No” to the cut in funding for CNCS, and “Yes” to fulfilling the Kennedy Act.

Jim Scheibel, a former mayor of St. Paul, is Professor of Practice in the Management, Marketing and Public Administration Department, Hamline University. He is a former director of both AmeriCorps VISTA and the Senior Corps. 

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/24/2015 - 07:29 am.

    If a person really wanted to help

    the lack of a paycheck for doing so wouldn’t stop them.

  2. Submitted by Jennifer Valley on 06/24/2015 - 09:05 am.

    National service is vital

    I can honestly say that serving in AmeriCorps was a life-altering experience for me. I would not be the person I am today were it not for the lessons I learned during my two years of national service.

    I developed an ethic of service and level of civic engagement that did not possess previously. I continue to volunteer in my community and engage in political activism.

    It was also a great opportunity to network and explore career options. I made lifelong friends, gained essential skills and discovered a career path I hadn’t previously contemplated in college.

    All of this plus a modest living allowance and help with student loans. Who wouldn’t want to serve?

    • Submitted by joe smith on 06/24/2015 - 10:17 am.

      Jennifer, I think it is fantastic you feel so strongly about Americorps and the influence it had on your life. You and thousands of others who feel the same should donate to Americorps and fund it so others who want to go this route can experience what you value. Leave the funding to individuals and take the Govt out of it. Working in the mines of Northern Minnesota was a life changing event of my life, let me know that I wanted to do something different with my life at age 19, I don’t think the Govt should fund thousands of 19 yr olds to go that route.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 06/24/2015 - 09:14 am.

    Is the message here, I will be charitable if you fund me? I was always taught charity comes from the heart, I guess it comes from the wallet of folks who owe it to you to pay for your particular cause.

  4. Submitted by Matt Haas on 06/24/2015 - 04:53 pm.

    There would be no need

    For such programs if charity were sufficient to fill the need. However as our oh so giving peanut gallery knows, it never has and never will. The simple fact is that since the people on the receiving end of the good works of these programs are someone other than they, themselves, some people believe they need to be ended. They’ve never met a poor person that has been trodden upon sufficiently to warrant their sympathy, or assistance.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 06/24/2015 - 08:35 pm.

      Again if those programs mean that much to you, fund them. I choose to support other charities that I believe in.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/25/2015 - 07:54 am.

      On the other hand

      food shelves are manned by evil corporate employees, church congregations and other conservatives while liberals would rather elect a politician to handle all that unpleasantness for them by writing a government check.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 06/25/2015 - 08:58 am.

    Dennis, I agree. I have never understood when liberals take credit for charities by claiming forced taxation on the folks and the Govt making up a new program somehow fulfills their requirement for helping their fellow man. Normally the new program duplicates 2 or 3 other programs and there is little accountability on how the money is spent but they take credit for the good intent that started the program whether is functions well or not.
    I also like how the politicians will decide which “public service” is worthy enough for them to help with your student loan.

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