It’s Valentine’s Day and that means I’m thinking about love. Now you don’t have to brace yourself for some mushy declaration here, as that is just not my style. Here’s what I want to declare – I love national service. I love it because AmeriCorps members are essential to our communities, schools, neighborhoods, families, and our economy. Not only do I love service, I know that we need it. Service is not a nice extra; it’s an absolute necessity.
National service through AmeriCorps, in programs like Volunteer Maryland and many, many others, meets two big and important goals. First, AmeriCorps members – and the volunteers they recruit, train, and supervise – meet serious community needs. In our Volunteer Maryland Coordinator program, each AmeriCorps member recruits and coordinates an average of 175 volunteers each year. Since our first group of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators began serving in 1993, we have engaged more than 90,000 community members in 1.4 million volunteer hours, serving nearly 1.2 million community members. This is not only the right thing to do; it’s the right investment to make. All of those hours of volunteering are worth more than $24 million to our economy. This isn’t nice; this is necessary.
Secondly, service in AmeriCorps has an immediate and lasting impact on those who serve. In an immediate sense, AmeriCorps provides a small living allowance and tangible job skills to individuals in need of employment. Beyond that, the long-term impact on AmeriCorps members is striking. At Volunteer Maryland, we survey our alumni for three years after program completion. Last year’s results were impressive – and consistent with what we’ve seen for years. 90 percent of VM alumni are currently involved in service activities. They are working in the nonprofit sector, volunteering for Parent Teachers’ Associations, neighborhood watches, and food drives. They are continuing to serve well beyond their AmeriCorps year. This may seem nice, but I’ll say it again: this is necessary.
I love national service for the opportunity it gives to individuals who may not have much opportunity. I love national service for empowering the young, old, and in between to step out of their comfort zones, learn new skills, and lift up their neighbors. I love national service because it’s a smart investment. I love national service because it is more than nice to do something that is completely necessary.