For some of you who may not be familiar with the US’s national service programs, they are a set of federally-funded programs encouraging and allowing people to provide service to their community. AmeriCorps in particular has been an important element of the US’snonprofit sector, engaging over 80,000 volunteers each year across over 21,000 cities. Besides generating millions of hours of service to improve our community each year and—let’s face it—saving nonprofits a ton of money, AmeriCorps is also an important pipeline of talent, allowing many amazing leaders to jumpstart their careers.
I am one of these leaders. Back in yonder days, I entered the real world after getting myMaster’s in Social Work. No one would give me a job because I had no experience. It was demoralizing. Desperate, I started studying for the Law School Admission Test, taking breaks to watch Spanish-language soap operas, feeling terrible about myself for being unemployed but glad that Camila was able to defend herself in jail against the treacherous Eduardo by using a knitting needle.
Luckily, before I went down the career path in law, I found a program funded by AmeriCorps that recruited emerging leaders who wanted to focus on strengthening Vietnamese-led nonprofit organizations. I was sent to the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA), where I worked to developed its programs and infrastructure. During that year, I learned critical skills like grantwriting, community engagement, program implementation, donor cultivation, board development, marketing, strategic planning, and how to survive on an AmeriCorps stipend (#AmeriCorpsSurvivalTip: At conferences, use a tote bag you got at an exhibitor’s table to discreetly take home snacks).My two-year stint as an AmeriCorps member led to a career in the nonprofit sector and a sense of purpose. It led to a stronger commitment to help better the world. It helped inspire my organization Rainier Valley Corps’s fellowship program (which is focused on developing nonprofit leaders of color, and which is now taking applications). It led to the creation of this blog. If it weren’t for AmeriCorps, who knows where I’d be. Maybe I would have become a lawyer; maybe a minor character in a telenovela, who knows.
AmeriCorps and other national service programs are not perfect. I had planned for a future post to discuss all the ways AmeriCorps needs to improve. Like paying its hardworking, dedicated members a decent living wage and not expecting them to live on food stamps and leftover grub from events (It leaves out a lot of talented leaders, especially those from the communities being served, who may have to support their parents and siblings). And having a better grounding in race and intersectionality.But now that it’s being threatened, I realize we nonprofits might have been taking AmeriCorps and Senior Corps other national service programs for granted. Think of all the amazing people who come to our organizations from these programs and all the stuff they do for us and for our world. AmeriCorps members have been instrumental to our sector. My organizations, and I personally, have benefited greatly from AmeriCorps. Chances are, yours has too. Our entire sector, and our community, has benefited from the work and passion of these leaders, many of whom remain in the field and continue to do incredible things every day around a variety of issues, including helping out during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, Flint Water Crisis, BP oil spills, Tennessee wild fires, etc. Here’s a passionate defense of AmeriCorps by a former mayor of Indianapolis, talking about AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members’ roles in those crises and more.
And here’s a great 3.5-minute video made by AmeriCorps alums, kick-ass poet Kelly Tsai and bad-ass illustrator Ryan Hartley Smith, that shows the challenges AmeriCorps members face, and the amazing results that come at the end of all the hard work that sometimes involves dealing with rats.
This coming week, March 4th to March 11th, is AmeriCorps week. If you are an AmeriCorps alum like me, or if your org has a national service program member, or if you are just a really good-looking and extremely charismatic person who is also impossibly smart yet ridiculous modest, please take ten minutes to contact your legislators. Tell them to protect national service.Tell them how it strengthens community and democracy by helping people find jobs providing service in neighborhoods.
Thanks for doing that this week, you sexy unicorn. Here’s a kitten.
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