As you may or may not know, a recent proposal by the GOP would seek to completely eliminate the AmeriCorps national service program as we know it. I spent July 2006 – July 2007 serving in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, and would not trade that experience for anything else in the world. For those of you who know me personally, you’ve probably heard me say that I would recommend AmeriCorps to all high school and college graduates because I feel that it is that important and worthwhile.
In response to this proposal, the vast network of AmeriCorps alumni (and it is vast, believe me) has mobilized in an effort to stop this from being approved. The following is the letter I wrote directly to my Representative asking her to vote “NO” on the proposal to eliminate AmeriCorps:
I am writing to ask that you vote “NO” on the proposal to eliminate the AmeriCorps national service program. It seems that not a day goes by when I do not hear about budget deficits, spending cuts, voter anger, and supposed compromise in Washington. Like most New Yorkers, I do my best to work, play, and try to enjoy life as much as I can despite the ever-increasing concerns about our political process. It is very difficult for a civically engaged New Yorker like myself to sit back and watch various proposals on how to solve these issues get thrown around in Washington without commenting on them. Nevertheless, I understand the concerns about both deficit spending and the federal budget, and I understand that sacrifices must be made.
However, when I was first notified of the proposal to completely eliminate the AmeriCorps program, which is often referred to as a “domestic Peace Corps,” I initially could not believe that it was true. As one of *many* in the network of AmeriCorps alumni across the nation, I quickly learned of the seriousness and gravity of the threat to not only the future of national service, but also to the many young Americans like myself who were given an opportunity to spend one or two years giving back to the community and developing essential life and work skills along the way. I, personally, have referenced these experiences and skills during the interview for every professional job I’ve held to date, and even in my successful bid for admission into a competitive graduate program for criminal justice at the CUNY – John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I graduated with my Master’s in 2009, and I am still working in that field today serving New Yorkers who are victims of crime.
AmeriCorps is a program that successfully engages thousands of Americans each year in serving often low-income and/or at-risk communities all over the country. At the same time, AmeriCorps members are “paid” at the same rate as the state’s poverty income level, and then given a very modest education award after they successfully complete their service. During my service term, I was given the opportunity to work on a project that helped to establish a coordinated community response team to domestic violence cases in Helena, MT. The idea was to improve the systemic response to domestic violence survivors in order to make the system work for them rather than the other way around. In situations that are often very dangerous, confusing, and overwhelming, it is essential that survivors of domestic violence are given as many options as possible to keep themselves safe, and that is what I worked toward during my time in AmeriCorps. It is no coincidence that AmeriCorps alumni around the country have mobilized in an effort to defeat this proposal. Logically speaking, it does not have a direct effect on us if the program is eliminated because we have already completed our service terms and have (often) moved onto our professional lives. Why then are so many of us speaking out? Having directly experienced the benefits of this program, we sincerely believe in it, and given the modest monetary investment required of AmeriCorps compared to the incredible yield that it affords in both the communities served by it and the Americans that are forever changed by it, I cannot fathom how a program could possibly be at risk not only for a cut in its budget, but for complete elimination. How is this possible? I can only hope that our congressional leaders vote “NO” on this proposal, and it is my sincere hope, as constituent of yours, that you do the same. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.