AmeriCorps turned 20 on September 12th. To celebrate they had an immensely successful Thunderclap campaign that reached over 51 million people on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Good enough for the 4th most popular Thunderclap campaign so far: http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps20
Now I’m an old dog still learning new social media tricks so I didn’t know what a Thunderclap campaign was until even I participated with a tweet and a political commentary:
Happy Birthday AmeriCorps! Thanks for 20 years #GettingThingsDone. Time Congress funded more of you! #AmeriCorps20
Hopefully, this campaign is just a warm-up for commemorating in 2015 fifty years of national service to fight poverty in America with the founding in 1965 of VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs by the Clinton Administration. During the Carter years, VISTA and the Peace Corps were part of the ACTION network.
In the late ‘70s, I had the opportunity to direct a three-year national VISTA grant. We may have been the last contract in the first year of the Reagan Administration with 60 VISTAs deployed in 26 communities across the country. When it became apparent that VISTA would not get the same level of support, let alone be approved for community development assignments, a few of our VISTAs started to organize their farewell with T-shirts printed: VISTAs Are Not Lost. They’re Missing in ACTION.
On August 31st, The New York Times Editorial Board called it: Broken Promises on National Service.
“… as the nation’s main public service program in those two decades, it has benefited numerous communities and given 900,000 Americans a chance to help people. Unfortunately, that milestone is also a reminder of Washington’s broken promise to expand substantially the number of full- and part-time AmeriCorps members, who receive minimal living expenses and a modest education stipend — now $5,645 a year for full-time service….This year, fewer than 80,000 positions were funded; the goal is 200,000.”
A week later on September 7th, The New York Times’ article by Jonathan Weisman “Light Pre-Election Schedule in Congress Matches Legislative Goals” noted: “Discounting the days with a late start or an early ending, Congress may have just four full workdays over the next nine weeks.”
Every day AmeriCorps volunteers make a powerful impact on the most critical issues facing our nation. Congress? Not so much.
While celebrating AmeriCorps 20th birthday and successes, we should reflect on the 50 years of fighting poverty that remains even more essential today, yet remains another unsatisfied promise by a Congress lost in its own dysfunction.
Too many times we stand aside
And let the waters slip away
‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow
Has now become today
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide