The future of Duluth's AmeriCorps program is uncertain due to national legislation from a House of Representative’s bill passed on Feb. 26. This month-long battle has raised eyebrows, particularly in response to three lines cited within the H.R. bill.
Title VIII—Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Section 1835 states: “the level for ‘Corporation for National & Community Service, Operating Expenses’ shall be $0.” This means that the Corporation for National & Community Service will get no funding. H.R. 1 PC is now being discussed the Senate.
The True North AmeriCorps, located within the Duluth YMCA, works with tutoring and homework help, after school programs and mentoring youth. Their specific mission is “to enhance the future success of at-risk children by increasing the number of positive adults in their lives.”
Working within a youth-based program benefits not only the children in those programs, but also parents and Duluth as a whole. True North has about 88 members this year and CNCS reports that number has increased from 73 members in the 2009 Serve Minnesota Annual Report. True North serves not only Duluth, but a 10-county area in northeastern Minnesota, including St. Louis, Carlton and Pine counties.
The passing of H.R. 1 would cut True North’s AmeriCorps member funding. This would greatly reduce the number of students assisted.
The overall mission of AmeriCorps remains oriented around community and service. The AmeriCorps headquarters, states that "AmeriCorps members recruit, train and supervise community volunteers, tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs, help communities respond to disasters and build the capacity of nonprofit groups to become self-sustaining, among many other activities." Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Clubs and many others depend on AmeriCorps members to help coordinate volunteers and participate in community outreach.
AmeriCorps’ terms of service are generally one year, but vary on the program itself. In addition to personal and professional growth, member benefits include an education award and sometimes a small living allowance and health care.
The concept of service has been welcomed by Democrat and Republican presidents. President Lyndon Johnson created AmeriCorps* VISTA in 1964 as a way to fight poverty. It was the National and Community Service Trust Act, signed by President Bill Clinton. In 1993, that brought both programs under the CNCS’s domain. President George W. Bush signed the Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act on July 3, 2003, which effectively doubled the program. On April 21, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, which amended and expanded the Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act.
The concept of civic engagement is not new. AmeriCorps members clearly impact their communities, but with the passing of H.R. 1 in the House of Representatives, this service may disappear soon.
What are your stories? How have you been impacted by AmeriCorps? Are you an alum? What made your service special to you? Leave a comment and we might share your story in a follow-up article.