National Service Program Has Opened Path to College and Careers for 25 Years
By Chester Spellman, Director of AmeriCorps State and National, Corporation for National and Community Service
Everybody has a story to tell, as the saying goes. Within that story there is often an event that influences the direction of a person’s life. For the last 25 years, AmeriCorps has provided a setting for more than 1 million women and men to have experiences that changed lives and communities all across this nation.
Each year during March, the Corporation for National and Community Service celebrates AmeriCorps Week to highlight the accomplishments of our members and alumni in the communities they serve. And the stories are as diverse as the members and the thousands of ways they volunteer to serve their nation. Every day we hear stories about how AmeriCorps service transforms communities — and also has a transformational effect on our members.
America needs an active citizenry to strengthen the fabric of our nation and create a bright future for all. As AmeriCorps members serve to improve education, support veterans and military families, increase economic opportunity, promote healthy lifestyles, and prepare for and respond to disasters, they learn what it means to become fully engaged in communities, how to lead, and start the work needed to enact change.
When we surveyed members at the end of their service terms, the impact of AmeriCorps service was clear:
• 9 out of 10 AmeriCorps alumni reported their experience improved their problem-solving ability.
• 80 percent of alumni felt confident they could create a plan to address a community issue and get others to care about it.
• 93 percent of alumni said they felt comfortable interacting with people different than themselves after their service.
• 94 percent said national service broadened their understanding of society and different communities.
Expanding Opportunities for Success
The 21st-century economy has become increasingly challenging for young people starting out on their own. It is more crucial than ever for anyone who wants to have a successful launch into adulthood to have the knowledge, skills, and qualities employers seek. Tens of thousands of AmeriCorps alumni have found careers and employment through our national service programs.
To help our AmeriCorps members mitigate rising college costs, we provide loan forbearance during their service terms and a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award equal to the amount of the maximum Pell Grant. Since 1994, AmeriCorps members have earned more than $3.3 billion in education awards to reduce costs of continuing education or repay qualified student loans.
Even during booming economic times, it can be difficult to acquire skills and experience to fill job requirements that can land a steady paycheck. While AmeriCorps members serve, they develop skills like leadership, self-motivation, flexibility, and creative thinking that are valued in today’s workplace.
The dedication and mission-oriented traits our AmeriCorps alumni demonstrate during their service is greatly valued and often leads to employment: 8 out of 10 alumni say AmeriCorps benefited their career path and 42 percent of alumni employed within six months of service found a job through a connection made in AmeriCorps.
As a part of our commitment to our members, we have made agreements with more than 500 companies, nonprofits, state and local governments, and federal agencies to offer priority hiring consideration to alumni through the Employers of National Service initiative.
‘America’s Best-Kept Secret’
In January, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service released an interim report about the state of service across the United States. The Commission noted that national service is “America’s best-kept secret,” and it can change the lives of the communities it serves along with those providing the service.
We are thrilled the commission recognizes that national service offers a solution to so many of the challenges our nation faces today. And AmeriCorps Week 2019 is another opportunity for our members, alumni, programs, and grantees to share the news about the success of national service far and wide.
For 25 years, AmeriCorps has been a sterling example of a federal program that strengthens our nation by helping our members develop qualities of responsibility and citizenship that are needed now and in the future. Our members and alumni have learned through national service that they are the answer to our nation’s greatest challenges — and we can’t wait to see what they do during the next 25 years.
Happy AmeriCorps Week to all of our members and alumni. Thank you for all the ways you “get things done” for America!
Chester Spellman is Director of AmeriCorps State and National at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that engages millions of Americans in service through its AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs and leads the nation’s volunteering and service efforts. For more information, visit NationalService.gov.