I urge the president and the Office of Management and Budget to rethink cutting AmeriCorps programs. As someone who has seen firsthand the real advantages of AmeriCorps programs, I strongly believe that cutting it would be a mistake. Having participated in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) as part of Class 22, I can assure you that the benefits far outweigh the financial cost of the program. While it has its flaws, programs like this are priceless to young people and the American public alike. Getting rid of a program that teaches leadership, service, and compassion will not help to win any battles against those pushing for “small government.” The lessons I learned during my time in AmeriCorps help to make me a more active citizen and a more independent American. I can assure you the same for my fellow members.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I left college. Because I love this country and feel lucky to have been born here, I decided to join AmeriCorps because I am able to serve and wanted to thank America for all that I have. Eventually, I thought I might want to work with refugees, either in a camp or helping them resettle in new homes so I figured that joining FEMA Corps would help me try that on a much smaller scale because responding to the refugee crises is a lot like responding to a natural disaster; people don’t have homes, they are fleeing danger, and there’s a lot of paperwork involved. The ten months I spent in AmeriCorps NCCC working with FEMA, the Red Cross, and local organizations across the country changed my life.
Upon acceptance to the program, AmeriCorps assigned me to the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was there that I met some of my now closest friends, learned a lot of new ice breakers, and dripped sweat constantly. We learned about the “Pillars of Service,” how the program works, and to what kinds of project we could be assigned. It was also there that my class would return and come to feel sort of like home over the ten months.
Throughout my time as an AmeriCorps member, I helped monitor a pilot program aimed at getting money out faster to cities across Missouri which had been hit by tornadoes and flooding. It was also there that I helped pick sweet potatoes that were then sent to a food pantry giving people more options for fresh produce. My team then went to Virginia to answer calls from disaster survivors, registering them for assistance from the federal government. I spoke to a woman who had lost four family members and her home in the series of tornadoes across northern Mississippi the day before Christmas 2015. I also had the opportunity to hike a small portion of the Appalachian Trail, marveling at the majesty of America’s natural environment. It was then on to the New Jersey Red Cross where my team planned and executed days across the state to install over 500 smoke alarms in homes that didn’t have them. In our spare time, we built a house with Habitat for Humanity.
In addition to the extensive service I was able to accomplish with my teammates in these ten short months, I learned more about myself than in my four years at college. I discovered my communication style, my work ethic, and my need for personal space among other things. I saw my teammates a friends become more confident, open minded and self aware throughout my time in AmeriCorps. Although it was often difficult, I would not give the experience up for anything. It was an invaluable experience that I will never forget and think about often. Service really changes a person for the better.
If the president and the OBM really think that the things I, as just one person, achieved in ten months, or that the leaders that AmeriCorps builds are worthless, not deserving of the tiny portion of the budget they are allotted, then they are sorely mistaken. Ridding America of young people willing to serve would absolutely not make it great.