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Reflection in times of crisis

I answered a call by making a call.

From my cozy, sunny office, I made two phone calls (of course, on my break time and from my cell phone)–one to Senator Klobachar and one to Senator Franken.  As a constituent, a former AmeriCorps member and public interest lawyer that facilitates legal volunteering, I explained how I have seen AmeriCorps improve communities through education, jobs training and environmental programs. Until it all came tumbling out of my mouth on those phone calls, I didn’t realize how much service meant to me and the people in my life.

In February, the House passed H.R. 1, which included eliminating operational funding for the Corporation for National Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, VISTA and other service programs. Shortly thereafter, the call went out to speak up for service, get in touch with Senators and ask them to reject the house resolution that would deny vital community services to people in need, deny Americans the opportunity to serve their county, and roll back the promise for the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

In the last several weeks when Save Service was in full force, I came to understand and appreciate what my AmeriCorps experience meant for my career trajectory. As I followed the Twitter feeds, email alerts, and MPR reports on the federal budget crisis and looming shutdown, I began to think of all the ways that national service has touched my life and that of my community.

AmeriCorps

In college I had plans to travel the world, doing good–affecting big-picture, broad based change. I didn’t realize then that big picture change is comprised of action and service at an individual, local level. As I’ve heard many describe it before, I fell into AmeriCorps and the nonprofit sector after a group of aspiring college students visited my college campus.

Something clicked for me that day and the following summer, I began my AmeriCorps term of service with Admission Possible. I worked on access to higher education, directly serving a group of inspiring, motivated, intelligent and fun high school seniors who changed my life. It was the hardest and most gratifying work that I’ve ever done and it left me with a thirst for more. This experience instilled an ethic of service and advocacy, illuminated issues of privilege and access, and provided a foundation from which to jump into a public interest and nonprofit career.

Capacity Building

As a Staff Attorney for the Minnesota Justice Foundation, I have recently taken over a program created and developed by a former AmeriCorps*VISTA attorney, Anne Hoyt Taff. As a VISTA, Anne developed a collaborative consumer law program, cultivated the curriculum, built the community partnerships, and recruited and trained the volunteer attorneys and law students. One component is a Debt Relief Rights Clinic that is held at local public libraries. This innovative legal service delivery model would not have gotten off the ground had it not been for Anne’s VISTA term of service. As a result, MJF held its first Debt Relief Rights Clinic in Washington County, and assist community members with exempt income that are being harassed by creditors or have experienced wage garnishment.

Community Member

According to the Corporation on National Community Service, in the last 17 years, over 17,000 AmeriCorps members in Minnesota have served over 24 million hours. 24 million hours! I know my neighborhood schools, youth organizations, food banks, and homeless shelters that host Corps members provide great benefit to Minnesota and Minnesotans. Currently, AmeriCorps members serve across the state in programs such as Admission Possible, Habitat for HumanityBridges to Self SufficiencyTrue North AmeriCorpsMinnesota Reading and Math CorpsConservation Corps, and more.

Irony of all ironies, President Obama stated in his National Volunteer Week proclamation that, “America’s story has been marked by the service of volunteers…They exemplify the quintessential American idea that we can change things, make things better, and solve problems when we work together. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our schools and shelters, hospitals and hotlines, and faith-based and community groups.”

A government shutdown has been avoided, a political compromise reached, over 38 billion shed from the federal budget–and funding for the Corporation for National Community Service has been narrowly spared, phew! Save Service reports that the Corporation will be funded at 94% of FY10 levels. This means a $74.6 million cut for programs that include Learn and Serve, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and *VISTA. 


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