AmeriCorps is important. Thanks for helping to save it, you sexy unicorn, you

Share

[Image description: A fluffy little white kitten. It’s sitting up and leaning over something, so you only see the upper half of its body. It’s looking up and off into the distance and it’s adorable.]

Hi everyone. I just learned that AmeriCorps and other national service programs are on the list of things that could get cut by the new administration. With all this chaos, who the heck knows, maybe by the time you read this, our new president will have changed his mind, and it’s not at risk at all. I doubt it though, so this blog post is to convince you to act now to protect funding for these programs. Since I’m asking you to not just read this post, but to actually call your legislators, I’m going to insert pictures of kittens throughout as a reward for your dedication.

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’s

[Image description: A cute little black kitten strolling in the grass! It’s so tiny! It is mostly black with little white paws! Awwww!]

nonprofit 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 my

[Image description: A sweet little tiny tan or white kitten. It seems to be in the forest, with pine branches in the background. The kitten is sitting down with its paws facing our left, and its tail facing right. It’s staring directly at you with eyes that threaten to steal your soul with cuteness.]

Master’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).

[Image description: A cute grey kitten, with blue eyes and floppy little ears on a round face. It’s staring at you, or maybe into the distance. It’s cute, but it looks a little concerning. I hope this little kitten is OK.]

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.

[Image description: A little tan kitten with orange stripes. It’s sitting on a pillow, I think, and looking to our right with sad kitten eyes. The background is blurred and multicolored, making it look kind of dreamlike. That’s fine, because this is one dreamy kitten.]

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.

[Image description: Aw, look at this little kitten. It’s tiny, and it’s grey and white and frolicking in a field of light green grass. it has one paw raised, and its tail is pointing to our left. This kitten seems to be in a hurry. Probably because it wants to call its legislators to help save AmeriCorps and other national service programs.]

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.

Make Mondays suck a little less. Get a notice each Monday morning when a new post arrives. Subscribe to NWB by scrolling to the top right of this page (maybe scroll down a little) and enter in your email address (If you’re on the phone, it may be at the bottom). Also, join the NWB Facebook community for daily hilarity.

Also, join Nonprofit Happy Hour, a peer support group on Facebook, and if you are an ED/CEO, join ED Happy Hour. These are great forums for when you have a problem and want to get advice from colleagues, or you just want to share pictures of unicorns. Check them out.

Donate, or give a grant, to Vu’s organizationRainier Valley Corps, which has the mission of bringing more leaders of color into the nonprofit sector and getting diverse communities to work together to address systemic issues.

Oh, and support the maintenance of this website by buying NWB t-shirts and mugs and other stuff.

Share
  • Jeanne

    Vu, thanks so much for this post. I too am an Americorps alum. I was interested in this program way back when President Clinton established and I was still in college, but I didn’t join then. I was what you might call a mature volunteer – post college were were in a recession, and I fumbled around in the job market for several years before finally decided to go to graduate school at age 29. When I left grad school there was another recession (!) and I was at a crossroads once again. I took the plunge and accepted an Americorps position as a museum educator for a small museum in New York. And, like you, that decision launched my non-profit career. I went on to become the Executive Director at that same museum and discovered such joy in my work that I’ve continued in the field.

  • The Legal Services Corporation is also threatened, which means a major hit to all legal-aid providers, those unsung heroes who provide professional legal support for those who can’t afford it. Vu’s advice – contact your legislators! At Federal, state, regional, county, municipal…speak out.

  • Sue Green

    Thanks, Vu, for posting this. I served as an AMERICORPS VISTA volunteer in the late 1990s with a tutoring program where older adults helped grade school kids. Many of the children were recent immigrants and many of the elders had immigrated to America between 1910 and 1950. Watching an 85 year old Hungarian lady and an 8 year old Mexican-American kid work together to try and understand the latest way of teaching math encapsulated what this country is all about–no one gets new math, but we can all work together in our struggle to try.

  • Betsy Jones

    Americorps will earn my support when they end their partnership with Teach For America.

  • Michael Brand

    Major drawback of AmericCorps is the huge overhead costs associated with the program (in the 2001 study, it was somewhere north of $10,000 per placement per year….let’s assume that’s now in the $14-15,000 range). Instead of ‘saving’ this program, we nonprofits would do better advocating the program change to direct cash grants for us to straight out hire our own recent college grads.

  • David Lynn

    Vu, thanks for this post and the value of a program that focuses on getting involved in civil society.

    However, how do we reconcile this value with the fact that programs like AmeriCorps just perpetuate the “charity” nature of this sector and the expectation that living wages – let alone market wages – are not part of doing good in the world? Programs like this perpetuate inequity and the overhead myth.

    Looking forward to seeing you this week in San Diego!

  • Becca

    Thanks, Vu. I’m also an AmeriCorps alumni. After finishing a two-year stint teaching abroad and feeling unsure about what to do with my liberal arts degree, I did a two-year AmeriCorps placement. I’ve since gone on to get my Masters in Social Welfare and work at a LGBTQ organization. It’s not perfect, but I credit AmeriCorps with putting me on this path!!!

  • Karen Leidy

    I love this site, the kittens, and the witty comments. I am not an alum, but I can spread the word and make some phone calls. 🙂

  • Elise Neidecker

    Thank you for your advocacy! I am applying to be an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate myself.
    I will also be working on my Spanish skills this summer – any telenovela suggestions?? (Currently watching El Internado!)