Steiner makes case for expanding AmeriCorps to 500,000 members

Posted by aaronjmarquez on December 10, 2007

photo by Aisha Mitchell

Addressing a crowd of AmeriCorps members, alumni, and other supporters yesterday, Jim Steiner (NH-2), Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, kicked off the ServeNext NH Day of Action Kickoff Rally in Manchester by laying out his vision for National Service in America. Citing his own experience as a member of the armed forces in the U.S. Army and his stepson’s current experience as a member of the “unarmed forces” in AmeriCorps, Steiner made the case for expanding AmeriCorps from 70,000 members to 500,000 members annually.

A young person leaves home, leaves a place they know, and joins the military, or joins AmeriCorps. They travel and work for a couple of years in another part of the country. Their peers and roommates have also traveled from yet other different parts of the country. That young person cannot help but grow to understand what America is like beyond his or her home state. And in seeing how others have grown up, and appreciating their local traditions, that young person cannot help but grow to gain a greater appreciation for, even indirectly, what it means to be an American.

That is part of the beauty of national public service. We do not compel you to learn citizenship and democracy by serving; you just do. For those headed to further studies afterward, every college and university should be competing to attract the military veteran, the Americorps veteran and the Peace Corps veteran to their campus. These students bring with them the experiences they have lived. They are more enriched by those experiences, and they enrich those around them. The experience provided by service to ones country causes an individual to become engaged and stretched. One becomes engaged and stretched when you leave your comfort zone, and you are put in a place new to you, with others from different parts of the country.

Steiner also advocated for extending GI Bill-like benefits to all who serve their country.

One of my former sergeants, SGT Scott Disher, emulates to me why GI Bill type benefits should be made available to participants in national public service programs. Scott was an airborne ranger infantry soldier. One day he told me he had reenlisted. And then he spat out a wad of his usual chew and just waited for the question. I took the bait and asked him what he had reenlisted to do…”I’m reenlisting to become a dental hygienist sir,” he told me. Scott did not think he would make the military a career, so he wanted a skill he could use once he left the service. “Not much use for an airborne ranger outside the military, ‘ceptn with the mob” was his conclusion about his current status. So Scott left to go to dental hygienist school. He changed direction in his life, through continuing his public service, albeit his uniformed service. However, whether as an airborne ranger, or if he had enlisted directly as a dental hygienist, Scott was entitled to GI Bill benefits for his service.

Steiner, who has been promoting National Service for well over 20 years, is glad that the issue is finally getting some attention. Still, he says that it needs to “become a national priority” and “a vision joined by other national leaders.”

I have been promoting national public service for well over twenty years now. It is finally getting some attention. However, it must be more than a program that gets a little nudge. National Public Service needs to become a national priority. It needs to become a vision joined in by other national leaders.

Until GI Bill-type benefits are codified, Congress should use its bully pulpit to convince colleges and universities to use tuition deferrments to recognize those who have provided National Public Service for their country.

Back in the 1930s this country was improved on the backs of those that participated in the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. The summary of that program notes the same intangible benefits that occurred when one leaves home for another area that I have mentioned previously. Bringing young people to different corners of the country to work introduces them to new communities. It socializes us as Americans more than if we remain in our home state. Many CCC workers settled down in the communities to which they were introduced, married and raised families there.

The same social issues exist in 2007.

Too many young people don’t have the opportunity to work or travel in areas away from home. National Public Service provides that opportunity, enriches them, enriches us, and enriches this country. I firmly believe that our National Public Service programs should be greatly expanded to provide more opportunities to young people to serve their country, both here and overseas.

Following his address, Steiner became the first candidate in the 2008 election cycle to sign the ServeNext Congressional Pledge to Expand National Service.


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