Keynote Address by Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, on the One-Year Anniversary of the Signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

Apr 21, 2010

As prepared for delivery

Thank you Bridge for that gracious introduction and for the opportunity to join with you to mark the one year anniversary of the Kennedy Serve America Act. Many thanks to our hosts, ServiceNation, America Forward and Voices for National Service. I also want to thank Melody Barnes for being here today. As Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Melody has taken up the President’s challenge to elevate national service to its rightful place. Under the leadership of the President, the First Lady, and Melody, national service is being woven more deeply into the fabric of the nation’s civic life. I have the distinct pleasure and honor to work with Melody, but more than that, to call her a friend.

There are so many groups and individuals here today who deserve to be acknowledged. But I’m afraid I would use all of my limited time if I recognized each of you by name.

The many different coalitions, organizations and individuals here each played a significant role in the passage of the Serve America Act and each of you are now actively engaged in making sure it fulfills its promise. Thank you all.

Senator Kennedy said, “We do not have to compel citizens to serve their country. All we have to do is ask – and provide the opportunity.” One year ago today, when President Obama signed into law the Kennedy Serve America Act, we asked Americans to serve, and in record numbers, Americans responded.

Ted Kennedy saw national service as an ideal way for every citizen to find themselves in our American tapestry.

The Serve America Act is an outstanding testament to his love of his country and his fellow citizens. It stands out in a long list of things that he set sail to do and got done. But, he did not do this alone.

Senator Kennedy understood that some things are bigger than politics and his co-sponsor, Senator Orrin Hatch, shares that value.

In a spirit of bi-partisanship rarely seen these days in Washington, it took Senator Hatch and Senator Kennedy, working with leaders in the House, just weeks to introduce, debate, rally the votes and pass the Serve America Act. I want to thank Senator Hatch, for his deep personal commitment to service as an expression of our highest values and for his leadership in the passage of this important legislation.

I also want to offer a special word of thanks to Vicki Kennedy for being here today, but especially for your own strong commitment to service.

As we’ve heard today, the Serve America Act is the most sweeping expansion of national service in a generation. It expands opportunities for Americans of all ages to serve and puts AmeriCorps on a path of growth -- from 75,000 to 250,000 members by 2017. But, more importantly, it positions citizen service at the center of our nation’s response to crises in education, health, clean energy, veterans and economic opportunity. And it challenges us to do a better job of demonstrating and measuring our ability to solve problems.

Undergirding that mandate are four major goals: First, to fulfill the promise to make service a solution for big national problems like the drop-out crisis and historic unemployment. Second, to expand opportunities for more Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve. Third, to build the capacity of individuals, non-profits, and communities by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

And finally, to embrace innovation by expanding what works and seeding innovative ideas.

One year after its enactment, volunteering is up, momentum is strong, and a new vision for service is taking effect. At a time of great need, Americans are responding to President Obama’s challenge that every American become engaged in some way to help solve problems -- from creating jobs and turning around our economy to making sure every child gets the extra support they need to be successful in school and in life. Citizens from all over the country are responding to this call.

Our dialogue with the American people has confirmed something we already knew: While Congress has expanded our mandate and given us more resources to do our work, the American people now expect us to use this opportunity to take service to the next level.

That means, quite frankly, more of a focus on measuring outcomes, as well as stronger management and accountability to ensure that our efforts are making a measurable difference. At the end of the day, it won’t mean a thing if we increase the number of volunteers and a million kids are still dropping out of school each year. It won’t mean a thing if 15 million people are still out of work. It won’t mean a thing if the social and environmental infrastructure of our communities continues to decline.

For too long, too many of us have been satisfied with knowing that “we tried.” That’s no longer good enough. We must not only try, we must succeed. In fulfilling the promise of the Serve America Act, we must transform service from a hope and a dream to a real solution.

One of the first things we are doing at the Corporation to make that a reality is taking a good look at strategy and management.

I am pleased to announce that next month, Heather Peeler, will join us as Chief Strategy Officer. Heather has had a long career in non-profit management, and comes to us from Community Wealth Ventures, where she served as the managing director.

Nicole Gallant will join us in June as Director of Learn and Serve America and to lead our education work. Nicole comes to us from Atlantic Philanthropies, where she managed the Learning Portfolio for the Children and Youth Program. I should also note that Nicole began her career in education and community service as an AmeriCorps member in the 90’s.

And we are very pleased that John Gomperts has decided to begin his encore career as Director of AmeriCorps beginning in June. This will be a return engagement for John as he served as Chief of Staff at the Corporation to the great Harris Wofford.

These new additions to our team will ensure that we have the right people…the right strategies as we step up our implementation of the Serve America Act.

I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to lead the Corporation at this pivotal moment.

I came to this country as an immigrant and what has always struck me as uniquely American is the compassion that people in this country have for serving their communities. For many of us, service is not only a way to help others; it is a stepping stone to a better life. Rebecca Rodriguez, a mother of four, was living in Chicago public housing when she joined AmeriCorps as a teacher’s assistant at the University of Illinois. She was a committed volunteer who worked hard, learned new skills, and even found time to earn her GED. Rebecca’s dedication led to a full-time job helping other Latino parents improve their literacy skills. She and her family recently left public housing and bought a home of their own.

Rebecca is one. Throughout this great nation, in Ohio, Utah, Mississippi – in big cities and small towns – there are untold numbers of people just like her who want to give more purpose and meaning to their own lives by helping others. The Serve America Act will give them that chance.

Service is the great force that unites us all as Americans. As Senator Kennedy often noted, Americans want to serve. All we have to do is ask. The Serve America Act is doing the asking. One year later, the good Senator would be pleased to know, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the entire service community and the American people are answering yes.

We know the numbers: A million-and-a-half more volunteers since 2008.

AmeriCorps is preparing to grow from 75 thousand members to 250 thousand members.

New programs abound, and a host of accountability measures. But, it’s more than that. This legislation is much more than the sum of its parts—the words on the page, the data, or the numbers.

It is the vision expressed for our country that is the soul of this bill.

A vision of America in which we tilt towards challenges rather than away from them.

A vision for America in which we reach across the table to one another.

A vision in which those in need connect with those who serve—and where those in need become those who serve others…

That is what this bill is about. It is Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch’s passion for the idea that is America, and for the ideal that is America.

So it is fitting that we come together, a year after this legislation was enacted to say, thank you.

Thank you to those who made this happen, thank you to those who tirelessly serve, and thank you to the man who gave us the vision, set the course, and asked us to live lives that matter, live lives of example, in short – to serve.

Thank you all.

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