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Summer of Service – Part I.

Posted by Morgan St. Jean on July 9, 2012

Shayla Price at the start of her summer of service

What does one think of when they think of a national service member?  The ideas are endless, which at once is both an advantage and challenge.  On the plus side, national service has been used to aid communities, states, and our nation in great times of need.  The downside is that there is not a singular definition or example that embodies the impact national service makes in our country every day.  To help demonstrate the impact service and service members have, ServiceNation’s ServceNext Initiative has launched ‘Stories of Service,’ a summer-long series that will capture first-person accounts from service members currently deployed across the country.

Our inaugural post in this series is from Shayla Price, an extraordinary woman who has devoted her life to service. She is serving for 8 weeks as an AmeriCorps VISTA member fighting poverty.

Summer of Service – Part I.

Guest post by Shayla R. Price

Service is an integral part of who I am. Through community service, I have had the opportunity to tutor kids, clean up parks, and raise money for great nonprofits.

As a commissioner for Volunteer Louisiana, a policy-making body for national service efforts in the state, I help distribute funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service to organizations and schools that make a substantial commitment to service. For the past three years on the board, I have heard countless positive, impactful stories from AmeriCorps members.

Those service experiences inspired me. That’s why I decided to join the front lines in the fight against poverty in America. Right now, I am officially an AmeriCorps VISTA! For a total of eight weeks, I will be serving at Harvesters, a food bank in Kansas City, Missouri.

Last week, my summer of service kicked off with great success. Alongside eight other VISTA members, I will be improving the lives of area residents by increasing their access to good, nutritious food.

Hunger is a real issue. In Harvesters’ 26-county direct service area, more than 375,000 people are food insecure.  Furthermore, 125,000 children lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Learn about hunger facts in your area by visiting Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap.

During training, I learned that Harvesters has a network of more than 620 nonprofit agencies. Their network includes emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. The food bank provides assistance to more than 66,000 different people each week.

Feeding More. Feeding Better. Through Harvesters’ Agency University, the food bank equips its agencies with the necessary resources to feed its clients. Organizations do not pay for the food products. One of my duties will be to monitor these agencies through site inspections. The main purpose of monitoring is to ensure every agency is in compliance with the rules.

In my first week, I had the opportunity to observe the monitoring of a Kids Café, a program that provides free meals and snacks to low-income children. I learned about the USDA’s food safety rules, child nutrition labels, and civil rights compliance.

In addition, I participated in SNAP (food stamps program) outreach at a mobile food pantry. During the site visit, my fellow service members and I handed out brochures explaining SNAP eligibility requirements and benefits. We also helped the community members bag green beans and nectarines for distribution to the long lines of parents, kids, and senior citizens.

I am looking forward to building systems and creating solutions to fight hunger. With a great team of diverse individuals, I am ready to teach kids about nutrition, distribute food to seniors, and conduct SNAP outreach.  I truly believe in Harvesters’ mission—feed hungry people today and work to end hunger tomorrow.

About Shayla

Shayla R. Price is an attorney and an advocate for ending childhood hunger. She has promoted community service as a governor-appointed commissioner for Volunteer Louisiana. Prior to government service, Price worked as a marketing director for ProgressiveU.org, a social welfare organization that sought to give high school and college students a voice.

While in high school, she earned more than $100,000 in college scholarships. She authored the book titled “The Scholarship Search: A Guide to Winning Free Money for College and More.” She has been featured in several publications, including “Better Homes & Gardens,” “Seventeen,” and “Black Enterprise.” Price was also named one of EBONY magazine’s 2009 Young Leaders and received the first-ever Emerging Greatness Award.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Corporation for National and Community Service, Millennial Generation, National Service, service, Stories Of Service, Volunteerism | 1 Comment »

How National Service Actually Saves Our Country Money

Posted by Morgan St. Jean on February 8, 2012

On Monday we published a blog about challenging the idea that AmeriCorps members are volunteers. The post was sparked by legislation introduced by Representative Stutzman (IN-03), titled the “Volunteer Freedom Act.” The bill would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund and provides human resource power for many national and local organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, food banks, etc. – you get the idea.

AmeriCorps members serving in Joplin, MO

AmeriCorps is a public-private partnership. When it awards grants to organizations to hire national service members, the organization has to match the grant with other non-federal funds.  As such, federal funds catalyze others to invest that might not have otherwise. As a result, the programs have more capacity to create jobs that meet community needs.

Without a federal investment, less private resources would flow into these programs and far less need would be met. This would mean more citizens struggling and that means more cost for the federal government (see below). Last year, AmeriCorps leveraged $486 million in non-CNCS funds from business, foundations, and other sources. CNCS allows organizations to leverage what funds they do have, investing that money into the economy. It is a situation where 1 + 1 = 3.

It is also important to look at how CNCS funds are spent – on jobs dedicated to helping our countries neediest. Take what AmeriCorps members did in Joplin, Missouri. Just hours after a tornado hit, AmeriCorps members from 20 organizations and seven states arrived to help the city rebuild. The tornado killed 161 residents and destroyed more than 7,000 homes, churches, schools, and businesses. The AmeriCorps members mobilized and managed over 60,000 volunteers, who provided over 579,000 hours of service. This equals more than $17.7 million donated resources.

Now we are not trying to argue that without AmeriCorps people wouldn’t volunteer to help with disaster response.  They would.  But the federal investment in full-time service members enables a massive leverage effect of those traditional, unpaid volunteers. AmeriCorps members maximize the efficiency and impact of those volunteers by ensuring work projects are ready to go and volunteers are never turned away, all which works to speed up the recovery time.  The longer it takes to rebuild, the longer it takes before people are back to work, before businesses reopen, etc, which is bad for the local and national economy. The federal investment catalyzes the recovery process. Last year AmeriCorps members recruited, trained, and supervised more than 3.4 million community volunteers.

In addition to responding to natural disasters, national service members provide preventative services. In homes across the country, Senior Corps members are helping elderly Americans to live independently. When a person becomes unable to stay in ones home, one goes into a nursing facility paid for by Medicare. This is an expensive and demoralizing experience for the individual. Senior Corps members allow people to stay in their home by bringing them food, coordinating their doctor’s visits, and being a companion. The government saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by investing in Senior Corps rather than paying for Medicare expenses.

AmeriCorps and Senior Corps are not a waste of government funds; rather they are smart financial decision that invests in people and local communities to solve our most pressing social problems. Most politicians get this, because someone (or many people) took the time to educate them.

While we understand the need to fix our nation’s finances, cutting national service will only make things worse. As with financial investing and business, you have to spend money to make money. You may not think this is the role of the government, but cutting national service will cost the government more in the end.

A lot of people have been posting on Congressman Stutzman’s Facebook and Twitter account sharing their experience of how national service programs are a financial asset to their community. I encourage you to do the same. We at ServeNext would also love to hear your stories so we can share them with others. Leave them in the comment section below or on our Facebook wall.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, AmeriCorps, Corporation for National and Community Service, National Service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

AmeriCorps MEMBERS are not VOLUNTEERS

Posted by Morgan St. Jean on February 6, 2012

I love to volunteer and have been doing it since I was a kid. But what I did after college as an AmeriCorps VISTA was not volunteering, it was a full time service commitment. Many of you may think I am drawing a false dichotomy. Other might be asking wait, doesn’t VISTA stand for Volunteers in Service to America? Technically, yes that is what VISTA stands for, but the name is misleading. We at ServeNext want to challenge the way the national service experience is described.

Morgan with a fellow VISTA member and two student volunteers at a MLK Jr., Day of Service they organized.

In these tough economic times there is a lot of talk about the need to cut government spending. Lawmakers are looking for easy cuts that make nice sound bites.  Case in point, Congressman Marlin Stutzman (IN-03) recently introduced the “Volunteer Freedom Act.” The bill would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund.

Why does Congressman Stutzman want to eliminate CNCS and national service programs? In his press release he says volunteers shouldn’t be paid. If you didn’t know anything about national service programs, saving $10 billion dollars in tax payer money by not paying people to volunteer sounds like a smart decision.

Of course, we know the huge impact these programs have on communities. So how can we convince Congressman Stutzman and others to support CNCS? Well, first we have to stop making it so easy to depict us as expendable.

We can do this by attacking two major assumptions: that we are just volunteers and that national service is just another inflated government program. This blog post focuses on the volunteer assumption, but look for a follow up blog on how national service actually saves money.

When a lot of people first hear about CNCS they make a false assumption that it’s just paying people to volunteer. This naturally leads to the question, why pay people to volunteer? If they really cared wouldn’t they just do it for free?

When I first heard this, my first instinct was to yell, “Yeah I was volunteering, but I worked really long hours and got paid way below minimum wage.” But then I realized that this just plays into their hand because it: a.) focuses the conversation on how much we get paid and b.) reinforces the idea that we are volunteers.

We need to make the conversation about how we are members, not volunteers. Serving in a full time AmeriCorps program is a big commitment. A lot of people are not comfortable calling it a job (I think it would really help our case if we did, but that’s a whole other discussion), but we need to communicate that it is more than a regular volunteer commitment.

Most volunteering is part time, a few hours a week or for some a few hours a year. Volunteers perform important work in their communities. But who organizes the volunteer opportunities, recruits volunteers, and train people to maximize their volunteer impact? Service members do!

There are many part  time national service programs, such as Senior Corps or Students in Service. But these programs ask a higher commitment  level than most volunteer opportunities. Organizations and communities benifit when people make a long term commitment and the service members take a lot from the experience.

As service members, individuals serving through CNCS perform both direct and indirect service and build the capacity of the organizations they serve with. By committing to the length of their term, national service members can engage in in-depth projects that really build the capacity of an organization and have lasting impact.

These are my thoughts.  What do you say when someone calls corps members volunteers? How do you describe your experience? We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how to respond to politicians assumptions about CNCS. You can either comment below or post on our facebook wall.

Also, if you want to share your story with Congressman Marlin Stutzman he has both facebook and twitter.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, AmeriCorps, Corporation for National and Community Service, National Service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

Online volunteers needed

Posted by hlaverty on November 11, 2009

radar from The Weather Channel www.weather.com
I have been following Ida as it hit El Salvador yesterday as a hurricane. Today, it’s a tropical storm guranteed to bring heavy rainfalls and cause issues to those in living in the Gulf Coast. It’s definitely the topic of conversation online and I noticed something I had not seen before on Beth Kantor’s blog, online volunteers.

Andy Carvin, vlogger, blogger, NPR social media guy; man about town, tweeted about needing volunteers for Hurricane Ida (now a tropical storm) and needing volunteers to help update HurricaneWiki.org and this thread to help get volunteers going. It’s all very simple and just takes a few minutes to post something that will undoubtedly help those affected.

Now, if your from Michigan like I am, you don’t need to prepare for hurricanes (snow, yes, but not hurricanes). However, HurricaneWiki, a project of the Hurricane Information Center proves necessary after last year’s Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When kept updated and maintained, people can use this online site to seek out help and to help others. It’s a great effective way of bringing resources together.

If you can help,please visit the Getting Ready for Idea site and the HurricaneWiki page .

Posted in Media, service, Social Media For Service, Uncategorized, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

Expanding the Theoretical Case for National Service

Posted by benganzfried on November 11, 2009

A fitting topic for my inaugural blog post is why the promotion of national service is worth our time, energy and treasure (wealth) in the first place?  To be clear, the issue is not whether voluntary national service is good (which most would agree that it is); rather, the issue is whether, given our scarce resources, national service is more worthy of our time, energy, and money than other causes.  Broadly speaking, political, economic, and intangible factors indicate that funding national service programs is one of the most reliable long-term investments we as a country can make.

In the political realm, the national service movement’s contribution to strengthening our democracy is almost unparalleled in three capacities.  Consider the thousands who donated time, blood, and resources to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.  These volunteers were one part of the larger relief effort also aided by the government of the United States, the international community, and private companies—but these volunteers could fill positions that otherwise would have gone unfulfilled such as letting families into their homes and accepting these families into their local communities.  Second, the national service movement helps citizens gain a broader perspective on responsibility to the greater community.  Third, more national service opportunities mean that more Americans will interact with people from very different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.  Harvard Professor Michael Sandel’s most recent book laments the fact that the rich and the poor hardly even share a common transportation sector (the rich fly on airplanes and drive cars while the poor take the bus and other city transportation).

Economically, national service offers a huge return on investments.  Alan Khazei cites studies showing that “every dollar invested in AmeriCorps returns at least $1.50 to $3.90 in direct, measurable benefits.”  Moreover, national service offers a platform to attack an array of persisting social challenges that would otherwise go unaddressed by our economic system.  Additionally, investing in human capital is perhaps the best investment that a government can make.  The more citizens who feel a direct tie to building up this country, the stronger the economy will become.

For the intangible sphere, I am referring to how volunteers and the people that they help feel as a result of their relationship to national service.  The literature in positive psychology (the study of what makes people happy) clearly indicates that expressions of gratitude and a strong sense of community engagement greatly increase an individual’s happiness.  An individual is responsible for his/her own happiness and the government is not; however, given the high rates of depression and the fact that people are more productive and successful when they are happy—there are good reasons to believe that the government would benefit tremendously if more citizens were happier.  The evidence that service leads to happiness is clear– from Robert Putnam’s findings that social gatherings and support lead to increased happiness, to the longitudinal study exploring the impact of AmeriCorps on corps members.  This study finds that former AmeriCorps members are much more happy as compared to the control group of those who expressed interest in AmeriCorps but never did it.

Let me put my proposition simply: by deciding to expand the national service movement, the public will experience political benefits, economic benefits, increased solidarity, and increased individual happiness.  Additionally, otherwise unaddressed problems will be solved.  In my experience, government policy is largely shaped by our ideas about why we have government at all.  Our conceptions of property rights to this day are still influenced by John Locke; our conceptions of evidence in law are still largely influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s 18th century idea that no evidence should be excluded during a trial.  National service programs have many more applicants than they can currently fund and there is much work to be done at a grassroots level to organize these citizen volunteers; but what is really badly needed are theoretical ideas that will support the effort to expand national service.  Just as the abolitionist movement was aided in the realm of ideas by Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison (among others), so too does the national service movement need to engage in the realm of ideas if it is to successfully complete its project.

Posted in National Service, service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

More Than Just the Land of 10,000 Lakes

Posted by hlaverty on November 5, 2009

The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) Website has a featured discussion called “Minnesota #1 In Civic Engagement”.

After reading the discussion and going through the report myself, Minnesota and it’s citizens deserve the title. Here are some of the reasons why it does:
*A long history of civic spirit dating back to the late 1800s.

*The state has the most educated citizenry in the country.

*41.4 percent of Minnesotans said they had increased volunteering despite the economic downturn. Compare that to the national average of 27.8 percent.

*They rank first in voter turnout, with 77.8 % of those eligible voting.

*They also support initiatives for civic change.

Impressive to say the least.

However, Minnesota recognizes they need to sustain these numbers and to keep up with 21st century they came up with some ideas. One is Cultural Change from Me to We: A Campaign to Celebrate our Public Stories of Civic Life.

By publicly sharing stories through media or political figures, people can actually see and read the importance and impact of being involved.

If you’re from Minnesota or live there, how do you think people should publicly share their stories through media?

Posted in service, Uncategorized, Volunteerism | 1 Comment »

Survey: Volunteering Has Decreased During Recession

Posted by Zach Maurin on August 27, 2009

A New York Times article by Stephanie Strom discusses a new survey from the National Conference on Citizenship that finds less volunteering and civic activities during the economic recession.

Strom writes:

That finding undercuts anecdotal reports of volunteers’ flooding nonprofit groups as unemployment has increased and suggests the challenges faced by the Obama administration, Congress and foundations working to encourage greater volunteer service and civic participation.

“They’re not saying they’ve stopped volunteering, but they are cutting back on the time spent on volunteering and civic engagement,” said David Smith, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship, which conducted the survey as part of a study titled America’s Civic Health Index,

The conference has produced the index for the last four years, though it has compiled similar data going back to 1975. Mr. Smith noted that the survey of 3,889 people was done in May, a low point in the economic slide.

What do you think?  If you work at a non-profit, have you seen more or less interest in volunteering over the last eight months?

Posted in Research, service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

Same Cafe: A Nonprofit Restaurant?

Posted by laurelgerard on July 6, 2009

            It is common belief that most restaurants are over priced, so how about a restaurant that you can pay what you want? Believe it or not, such a place exists. Same Café is a non-profit restaurant located in Denver, Colorado. It is locally owned by two outstanding individuals, Brad and Libby Birky.

            The Birkys are both people who enjoy good food, so eventually they decided that they wanted to open a restaurant. Brad enrolled in a culinary program at the Metropolitan State College of Denver.  The Birkys then quickly decided that they did not want to start a conventional restaurant, as typical work hours for a restaurant owner are impossibly late and inconvenient. As they had previous experience working in soup kitchens and participating in various charities, they decided they wanted to cater to the homeless population. They wished to provide a place for those in need to get good quality food. “At times we would have to look through heads of lettuce to pick out the rotten parts,” Libby explained, recounting her experience working in a soup kitchen. Thus the idea of Same Café was developed, a place where anyone is entitled to healthy food. 

            The restaurant operates on a “pay-what-you-want model.” This means that there are no set prices on the menu. Instead, customers order what they wish and pay afterwards, an amount that the consumer gets to pick. For those who cannot pay, the Birkys hope that those individuals will devote at least one hour to working in the restaurant.

            Not only does this system feed the hungry, but the food is largely organic as well. In a discussion with Libby she explained, “We mostly try to buy locally. At times our lettuce could have gone from the ground to being served in an hour.” Also, Same usually accumulates less than a trash bag of waste every day. This is because most patrons are aware that they can come for seconds, so they are less likely to over-order. Brad buys fresh ingredients every two days, so products rarely go bad. This means that this restaurant is both an efficient way of feeding the hungry and is environmentally friendly.

           Volunteerism is the backbone of this business. Not only is it encouraged to those who cannot pay, but the restaurant is run largely by volunteers. Some are friends and family of Brad and Libby, but others are just interested and intrigued by the good cause. The restaurant has attracted so much attention that the volunteer schedule is filled for months. When speaking with Libby she stressed the importance of volunteerism. “Volunteering strengthens the community in which you live in, it is necessary in ensuring that one’s community will continue to be healthy and thrive.” She also hopes encourage people to seek out other non-profit restaurants throughout the country and donate a little time to the cause. 

For more information on Same Cafe and how to get involved visit their website.

The Team

 

Inside the cafe

Posted in service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

Keeping the Discussion Going

Posted by Zach Maurin on June 28, 2009

Last week the National Conference on Volunteering and Service concluded.  It was a great few days of interesting discussions, meeting new people, and building on existing relationships.  First Lady Michelle Obama and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke.  Bon Jovi sang.  And most importantly: some 4,500 service champions, leaders, and believers from all sectors gathered.  There is serious momentum and energy around service.

So over the next couple of weeks I’m going to write a bunch of blog posts that discuss the ideas that I encountered during conference sessions, while asking additional questions and drawing out the topics a bit more.  I encourage others to ask questions or make comments in the comments sections whether they were at the conference or not.

Some of the topics I’m going to discuss include:

  • Is Causes on Facebook all about the money?
  • Supporting members/volunteers in self-organizing efforts
  • Renaming the non-profit sector
  • Storytelling as a best practice by Andy Goodman
  • Volunteer management and capacity
  • AmeriCorps alumni are everywhere
  • Moving from service to civics and building community will
  • The launch of All for Good

Bon Jovi Performing at 2009 Service Conference

First Lady Michelle Obama at openning of 2009 Service Conference

Conference attendees gather for openning ceremony

Posted in National Service, service, Social Media For Service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

Volunteerism is Slavery?

Posted by Zach Maurin on July 21, 2008

Jonah Goldberg, an LA Times columnist, has taken a bold stand against Barack Obama’s speech which called all Americans to serve their country or community through programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. He claims that Obama will violate the 13th Amendment which states that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall not exist within the United States.

“There’s a weird irony at work when Sen. Barack Obama, the black presidential candidate who will allegedly scrub the stain of racism from the nation, vows to run afoul of the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery,” says Goldberg.

    Apparently, expanding national service programs and encouraging young Americans to public service is involuntary servitude because “we have a healthier culture of service without doubling the size of the Peace Corps or pushing another 250,000 into AmeriCorps.” Since Goldberg is content with the way things are, there’s no need for change, right?
    Wrong. And wrong on so many levels.
    Obama precisely states that if elected President, he will “set a goal for middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year,” while doubling that amount for college students. First, 50 hours of service is approximately 2.08 full days of service…out of 365 days in one year. To speak about this matter with such an affronted tone as Goldberg does is a bit ludicrous. Realistically speaking, if those 2 full days of service are spread out within a span of 1.5 months, that is 0.35 hours a week. So if slavery is what Goldberg calls it, then quite frankly, that’s only .05 hours a day that we have to endure such cruelty.
    Second, the accusation that Obama will violate the 13th Amendment is completely taken out of context. What Goldberg says is this: Obama will meet these goals by making “service compulsory by merely compelling schools to make it compulsory.” What Obama actually says is: “We’ll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs” and for college students, “I have proposed an annual American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000” in exchange for 100 hours of public service. 
    In other words, school districts must provide the opportunity to meet this goal—not once does he speak of the students themselves. For college students, he will make 100 hours of public service an additional requirement to his “American Opportunity Tax Credit,” the centerpiece for his higher education plan.
    Moreover, this $4,000 scholarship is money funded by the government, not from personal college funds. Goldberg’s claim that “you’ll lose money you can’t afford to lose” is not exactly close to the truth. Perhaps, Zifnab, who commented on Goldberg’s column, says it best: “The very idea of doing community service in return for scholarship money. Why, that’s like doing work in an office for nothing but a paycheck. The horror.” 
    Lastly, there is an important distinction between encouraging and requiring. A military draft is a requirement. Offering incentives for more public service is encouragement. Goldberg criticizes the expansion of national service programs as if it is unwelcome. Little does he care to know that in 2006 alone, more than 61 million Americans dedicated 8.1 billion hours to volunteering. In a 2002 poll, 70% of Americans thought universal service was a good idea. So Mr. Goldberg, you may be part of the 30% who disagree but please, keep your thoughts to yourself.

Posted in service, Volunteerism | Leave a Comment »

 
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