Eliminating the AmeriCorps program will most hurt the communities it serves.
You see them on the train, in public schools and walking around neighborhoods in Philadelphia. They don a uniform of tan construction boots, khaki pants and a bright, red jacket. They’re volunteers for City Year of Service, an AmeriCorps program that offers extra hands and minds to schools across the country and in Philadelphia.
But if the House Republicans get their way, City Year, along with thousands of other AmeriCorps programs across the country, could disappear.
On Feb. 19, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would remove more than $60 billion from the federal budget during the next fiscal year. The resolution passed by the House would completely eliminate the AmeriCorps program, funding for Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood and more.
The GOP said the cuts are necessary to balance the budget and won’t budge. In a March 4 press release, the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations didn’t even mention AmeriCorps in its criticism of the Republican cuts.
Every time I hear “bipartisanship agreements” come out of President Barack Obama’s mouth, I’m worried AmeriCorps is just not appealing enough to be part of a compromise. If Obama really wants to invest in the future, he should continue funding AmeriCorps.
I’ll never forget the first time I realized what AmeriCorps is all about. It was my first year at college. I’ve never lived in a city before, so it was a culture shock, to say the least.
I was inspired by the work with Project SHINE, a program out of Temple’s Intergenerational Center that provides volunteers to community centers around the city to teach English as a second language.
I first taught ESL classes to elderly Latino citizens in the Kensington neighborhood. I don’t think I would have ever ventured so far north in my life otherwise. The next year in the same neighborhood, but at a different community center, all of my students were under 30 years old and most of them were undocumented.
Their dedication to learn English when they could very easily stay in a Spanish-speaking bubble was inspiring. We talked about workers’ rights and how to survive in Philadelphia – I loved it.
To this day, I feel a strong commitment to social justice work. Project SHINE was my spark, and it is only possible because each year an AmeriCorps VISTA helps Temple manage the program.
There are currently more than 2,900 AmeriCorps members serving in Pennsylvania. Nationally, approximately 637,000 women and men have volunteered more than 770 million hours since 1994.
Perhaps most notably for college students, Teach for America is on the chopping block.
Experience Corps is another AmeriCorps program for those ages 55 and older who want to teach children to read. There is even Jumpstart, which offers language, literacy and social skills to preschoolers as part of a comprehensive early education program.
None of these programs are block grants of governmental welfare. AmeriCorps funds are competed for every three years. Any organization that accepts AmeriCorps workers essentially matches the federal dollars with private sector money as a requirement.
The Corporation for National and Community service, the organization that houses AmeriCorps and Senior Corps or Experience Corps, estimates more than 100,000 jobs would dissolve if the AmeriCorps program is eliminated, and 500,000 Americans ages 55 and older would lose their positions.
Many students have been enticed by AmeriCorps paltry $10,000 yearly stipend, eligibility to defer loans and the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $5,350 to cut down federal loan debt when the program is completed.
Rachel Gottlieb, an alumna and current AmeriCorps member, said working with the organization has been a precious experience.
“It has been challenging but really rewarding,” Gottlieb said. “I think it’s important for me, living in Philadelphia and having gone to Temple, to give back to the community that I lived in for four years.”
Gottlieb works at a local health clinic in North Philadelphia and said working on the ground helped her understand abstract ideas she was taught about in college, such as racism. She said her experiences have inspired her professional career path.
“I feel completely confident going to graduate school for clinical social work because of my experiences in AmeriCorps,” Gottlieb said.
“I can’t even imagine the entire program disappearing, thinking about how many people have benefited for the past 20 years,” she added.
My own volunteer work forced me to explore Philadelphia and create networks I’m using today as I look forward to working with AmeriCorps VISTA sometime after I graduate.
Obama needs to get serious about these cuts because if he doesn’t, not only will every city across the country be starving for social services, but thousands of potential AmeriCorps members will lose the opportunity of a lifetime.
Kristen Mosbrucker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.