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U.S. should stoke the fire of national service, not extinguish it

The tradition of citizens serving must continue. Service is at the core of the American spirit.

Service is at the core of the American spirit; its fire must be stoked, not extinguished.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

National Service should be expanded, not ended.

Jim Scheibel

Lack of affordable housing, achievement gaps, and seniors giving up meals to pay for prescriptions are issues we must address. To address our issues and strengthen our communities we must sustain and grow national service. As my mentor and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Harris Wofford continues to say, “The question is not, should I serve, but where will I serve?” Universal service should be a common expectation.

Completely eliminating the budget of CNCS, the home of AmeriCorps and the Senior Corps, as proposed by President Trump is a tragic mistake. Not only will things not get done, we will lose the development of that spirit of doing work for the public and recognizing what we have in common.

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National service is a priority for me because over the past five decades I have seen the results of AmeriCorps members, VISTA volunteers, Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP volunteers. For example, during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of VISTA I saw volunteers across the country continue the War on Poverty. I saw VISTAs work with Charles Prejean and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives transform the lives of farmers. 

During the Clinton administration I was honored to serve as the Director of AmeriCorps VISTA and the Senior Corps. Eli Segal, the first CEO of CNCS, was a charismatic and business-minded leader who knew from day one that the key to sustaining the agency was to focus and emphasize impact — how many more people received health care? How many more people acquired literacy skills? How many people mobilized for community revitalization? CNCS has not changed that emphasis, and because they get things done they should be funded, in fact, the number of volunteers should be increased.

The elimination of CNCS would put 80,000 AmeriCorps members out of work, and prevent 270,000 Senior Corps members from providing vital services to their communities. The elimination of the agency would have no real impact on overall federal spending; total funding for CNCS is .029 percent, or less than three hundredths of 1 percent.

Today, in the Twin Cities, Habitat for Humanity’s 1,600 volunteers have provided housing for more than 1,100 families. This would not occur without the work of AmeriCorps and VISTA members. College Possible this year will work with nearly 30,000 students across the country and help them earn a college degree. Jim McCorkell, the founder, will tell you this work could not be done without AmeriCorps members.

The tradition of citizens serving must continue. Service is at the core of the American spirit; its fire must be stoked, not extinguished.

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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