CEO Report at Public Board Meeting

CEO Report at Public Board Meeting
Mar 11, 2014

Wendy Spencer
CEO Report at Public Board Meeting
March 11, 2014 – 2:30 PM

Thank you, Lisa, and good afternoon, everyone.  The first part of this year has been a busy and exciting time at the Corporation for National and Community Service.  And I am confident that we are well on our way to ensuring that 2014 is the Year of Citizen Service.

Of course, we saw incredible citizen service in action on January 20, when our agency hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens took time to give back in their local communities and help their neighbors on what was truly “a day on, not a day off.”  That commitment was mirrored across the federal government thanks to the President’s Task Force on Expanding National Service, which has made engaging more Americans in the work our agencies do a priority.

As part of the Task Force, I served alongside the First Family and senior Administration officials, including four Cabinet Secretaries.  Members of Congress and other elected officials from both parties also came together to serve in communities nationwide.

I am honored to serve as co-chair of the President’s Task Force to help ensure we meet his charge to develop innovative partnerships – across the federal government, with state and local governments, and with dedicated nonprofits and corporations, with faith-based groups – in ways that promote healthy communities, strong local economies and provide what I love to hear the President refer to as “ladders of opportunity for individuals across America.”

The goals of the President’s Task Force are central to our efforts to build on the bipartisan Serve America Act.  And as you have heard me discuss before, we focus on four priorities to meet the goals of the Strategic Plan and Serve America Act to advance our mission.  And they are the EDGE goals.

  • “E” for Expanding Economic Opportunity;
  • “D” for Driving Innovation and Impact;
  • “G” for Growing National Service and Volunteerism; and
  • “E” for Explaining Why Service Matters, which is so very important.

I am pleased to report this afternoon that we are making great progress on each of our priorities, starting with Expanding Economic Opportunity.


On February 27, young men from our Social Innovation Fund grantees – Becoming a Man/Youth Guidance, Latin American Youth Center, KIPP DC, and Communities in Schools, four different organizations – joined President Obama to launch the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, a new effort aimed at empowering boys and young men of color.   

I am honored that the President asked me to serve as a member of the new federal task force he is forming for this effort, particularly because it recognizes the enormous work that our agency – through its direct programs and grantees – has been doing to engage and support disadvantaged youth – we have been working on this for more than 20 years now.

For example, Foster Grandparents serve opportunity youth across the nation.

In partnership with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, as just one example, 22 Foster Grandparent volunteers serve approximately 320 children and young adults ages 12 to 21, mentoring them to help improve their self-esteem and behavior.

We know that mentoring works.  Connecting more of our children and youth with good mentors is something the First Lady has made a priority.  And our agency continues to work with great partners like MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to help close our nation’s mentoring gap. 

Last year, more than 837,000 children and youth were mentored through our programs.  That includes nearly 300,000 youth from disadvantaged circumstances who are mentored through RSVP, our Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and Foster Grandparents.  And it includes more than 538,000 children and youth who we connect with mentors through our AmeriCorps programs.

Young adults who are not connected cost society $93 billion annually in lost wages, taxes, and social services.  However, it is estimated that every dollar invested in quality youth mentoring programs yields a $3 return in benefits to society.  So connecting more youth to good mentors is a great national priority, and it builds our youths’ ability to become strong individual adults and citizens.

We are also connecting disadvantaged youth to opportunities through the AmeriCorps NCCC, which directly engages opportunity youth as part of its mandate.

Together with one of our closest partners, the Corps Network, we launched the Opportunity Youth Service Initiative last year.  The initiative engages disconnected youth and then enlists them in helping to solve some of our nation’s most critical challenges, like providing low-income individuals and families with home repairs and retrofitting that help cut our nation’s carbon footprint.

This work is a major step in helping to create a green-skilled career ready workforce, which is desperately needed as the baby boomer generation enters retirement and leaves large federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service. 

One of the focuses of the Task Force is creating a “service pipeline.”  We are forming new partnerships with leaders in the private sector and non-profit community to create a service pipeline to those sectors, as well, so that service in the volunteer sector can lead to opportunities and careers for individuals.

And, of course, AmeriCorps has many programs that both serve opportunity youth and engage opportunity youth at the same time in serving communities.

One great example is PowerCorps PHL – “PHL” stands for Philadelphiaan exciting partnership we just launched last year.

It’s a bipartisan initiative created by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to address the state’s environmental stewardship initiatives, as well as the City of Philadelphia’s youth workforce development and violence prevention priorities.

PowerCorpsPHL annually enrolls 100 individuals, ages 18 to26, in a nine-month program that includes six months of full-time service as AmeriCorps members with City departments followed by three months of intensive job placement support.

I heard Mayor Michael Nutter address the National League of Cities yesterday and he talked about the desperate need to find economic opportunity and jobs for our young people.

Bicell Walker is one of the young men who have turned their lives around through this great new program.  Bicell shared his story last month when he visited us here at headquarters.  He is a dynamic young man and we have a video that really brings Bicell’s story to life.  So let’s take a look at this short video.

[Bicell Walker Video plays]

I just think that’s great.  I really loved meeting Bicell and he looked me in the eye and he said, “I’m telling you, AmeriCorps saved my life.”  That gives us hope for programs like this in Philadelphia and across the nation.


In addition to expanding economic opportunity, we are also thinking of new solutions to old problems, and driving innovation and impact.

That work is made possible by a great FY 2014 Budget that was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress and signed by the President in January.  It included up to $65.8 million for grant making through the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) this year.  Innovation, evidence, and scale are central to all of the SIF’s work.

We recently launched the Social Innovation Fund Notice of Funding Availability.  Notice of intent is due by March 24 and applications are due April 22.  So we are doing a lot of outreach for that so if you know anyone who is interested in applying for this funding, please share that link on our website and help us spread the word.  We will be awarding these grants in August.  So the Social Innovation Fund team will be very hard at work later this spring and summer reviewing applications.  Grants will range from $1 million to $10 million and be for three- to five-year project periods.

In February, our agency also announced more than $13 million in funding to support organizations and nonprofits across the nation. The organizations will leverage the experience and skills of RSVP volunteers who serve in schools, conservation projects, disaster response initiatives, veterans’ services, and many other areas.

More than 73,000 senior volunteers will serve through 175 organizations receiving awards in 41 states. These funds were awarded as part of a grant competition for RSVP.

AmeriCorps VISTA has launched a new partnership with Neighborworks America to develop pilot projects that will help nonprofits expand their evaluation and data-driven management capacity.

I want to say a special “thank you and farewell” to Mary Strasser who retired this past week as our AmeriCorps VISTA director.  She is just a wonderful leader.  On her last day, she brought me what I think will be the first check of a new foundation – she said it was written out to “Fifty for the Future” – which is in honor of the 50th anniversary of VISTA.  She is going to be a great ambassador for us.  She is not leaving our family.  She is going to be a super alum.   

And we will have the leadership of Erin Dahlin who will be our acting AmeriCorps VISTA director.  So congratulations to Mary on her retirement and welcome, Erin, in this new role.

I am also proud to say that we continue to support long-term recovery efforts in communities hit hard by natural disasters. 

That includes in Colorado, where more than 682 national service members have served almost 93,500 hours to help families recover in the wake of extensive flooding in the state.  For those who are doing the math, that’s an average of three weeks of service.  That’s a lot of service per member.  That includes 260 FEMA Corps members, 84 AmeriCorps NCCC members, 15 AmeriCorps State members, and 13 AmeriCorps National Preparedness and Response Corps members.

I visited Colorado on February 26 – 27 and was amazed at some of their incredible work.  I toured the flood impacted area.  I saw RSVP volunteers, who I had the honor of serving alongside.  Many of these RSVP volunteers serve with the Seniors Helping Other People (SHOP) program to create safer homes for residents by installing ramps and completing home repairs.

More than 290 RSVP volunteers in total have done great work collecting items for emergency response kits, building ramps, transporting people living in affected areas to medical appointments and helping them with simple chores like grocery shopping.

And 19 AmeriCorps VISTA members have mobilized and trained volunteers, helped families locate housing, and supported 2-1-1 call centers, among other duties.  Together, they have served 800 seniors and people with disabilities and more than 1,200 clients in total.

I want to say a big “thank you” to Kathie Ferguson, our area manager for that region, Dan Dunlap, the Colorado State office director, and everyone on our team who made our Colorado trip such a success.  Also Lindsay Dolce, who is the executive director of Serve Colorado, the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, does a great job in Colorado, as well.

I had the opportunity to visit with a Wyoming service corps delegation, including Kira Weiss from our Wyoming state office; Shelly McAlpin, the program director of ServeWyoming - Wyoming Commission on National and Community Service; and also the chair Cody Friedlan.  They drove down to Colorado so I told them I won’t let this get in the way of me visiting Wyoming.  It was a great opportunity for me to talk to the service leaders from Wyoming about the work they are doing.

I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, as well.  And this trip was focused on hearing the response, years later, for Hurricane Katrina and going to non-profits and organizations in the area and asking them the difference that national service made in the recovery.  And there was a common theme: everywhere I went they would demonstrate to me the impact national service had in the community and they would say, “We could not have done this without AmeriCorps, without Senior Corps, and with the continuing support of national service.”

While in New Orleans, I also met citizens who have a heart for service and are changing lives.

One of the people was Grandma Leola Smith who serves at Incarnate Word Head Start.  She serves in a class of between 16 and 21 children.  She was quite amazing.  A particular story that stood out for me was about Caleb, one of the boys Grandma Leola works with.  When she met Caleb, he would not speak – he wouldn’t speak to teachers or to his fellow students.  He wouldn’t speak to anyone.  And so after weeks, she really started working with him and realized that maybe if she gave him some special care and attention that she could somehow break through.  And she was able to break through and not only is Caleb speaking now but he’s quite talkative and often gets in trouble for talking in class.  I think that shows the intergenerational connection between a foster grandparent and child which is so outstanding.

I want to say “thank you” to Kathie Ferguson, again, and also the acting state office director Vickie Schenk and everyone who helped make our New Orleans trip such a success.


While in New Orleans, I also visited a great partner – Tulane University and President Scott Cowen, who is a great national service advocate.  He will be retiring in June. 

We announced a new initiative together:  our agency, Tulane University, and the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project are joining forces to give recent graduates an opportunity to make a difference in their New Orleans communities. 

The Tulane AmeriCorps Fellows Program will begin this summer and support eight fellows who will work full-time with nonprofits in high-need neighborhoods throughout the city.  It is a 4 + 1 program: the college will provide a college scholarship for a four-year degree and in return they will ask the recipient to give a year back to the New Orleans community in service as an AmeriCorps member.   Tulane will provide the living stipend allowance for members to serve that year. 

Other examples of growing national service and volunteerism include The Governor’s Council on National Service in Iowa, launched by Governor Terry Branstad.  Led by the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, and developed in partnership with the Franklin Project, the Governor’s Council will engage leaders from state agencies, higher education, and the private sector to make recommendations on how to expand national service and volunteer opportunities in Iowa.  The Council’s goals mirror those of the President’s Task Force on Expanding National Service.

And in California, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez has introduced legislation to create a California Service Corps.  We are encouraged by the Speaker’s legislation and are working with his team and other leaders in the Assembly and the state service commission, California Volunteers, led by Karen Baker to provide guidance on the final bill.

This is the exciting, next wave of national service: Joining with states, other federal agencies, and private sector partners to meet national goals through national service.


And then our last priority:  Explaining why service matters.  We do the work diligently but we need to talk about it, as well.

That includes continuing to engage and communicate with citizens in their local communities. 

And one of our biggest engagement initiatives will be the second annual Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service.  Last year we had 832 mayors across the country bring together national service participants, thank them, and talk about the impact that work is having in their communities.

We also are working with tribal leaders and other executives.  But I am not going to tell you today’s number.  I am going to leave that as a secret but I will give you a hint.  We are already over last year’s number and we are well on our way to exceeding 1,000 mayors.

This is a great partnership with the National League of Cities and NLC president Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul, MN, and the leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, including its president, Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, AZ. 

I had great one-on-one meetings with 17 mayors in January during the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which was held here in D.C.  It was a great opportunity to discuss national service and how national service can be a strategy and a solution in their cities.

And in February, I met with 20 governors and first spouses during the National Governors Association meeting and the White House’s reception for governors.

We have had so many exciting opportunities to highlight the value and impact of our work since the start of the year.

We continue to build on our very successful launch of the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary.  This will be on September 12.  Throughout the year-long celebration, CNCS programs will amplify a specific monthly focus as it connects to their issue.  Examples include: Healthy Futures this month; Environmental Stewardship in April; Senior Service in May; and Disaster Services in August.

And, of course, our year-long celebration will culminate this September with a simultaneous “swearing-in again” of AmeriCorps alums.

We are using every available tool – from social media to word of mouth and everything in between – to reach more AmeriCorps members and alums so that they join us on September 12. 

One of my favorites is a short but powerful PSA video our team has created.   We will release it in the spring along with a digital toolkit.  I think you are going to love it.  So let’s take a look.

[PSA video plays]

So that’s going to be coming to you soon.  Congratulations to our External Affairs Department for putting together a great video.


And finally, last week the President published his Administration’s Budget request for FY 2015, which Madame Chair Quiroz mentioned earlier.  It is now online.  And the full Congressional Budget Justification (CBJ) is online.  We also have a very through Frequently Asked Questions document on our website, as well.

While it’s a level funded budget, which we greatly appreciate, it does propose big changes to Senior Corps programs.  I encourage everyone to read the CBJ thoroughly and share your views.

Every day in this world of service that includes over five million Americans in service that we touch with one of our grants, partners, or days of service, we witness incredible caring and community engagement.  Most every day is filled with fantastic stories.  Unfortunately, on occasion, we experience tragedy as we did this past Saturday night when a Denver campus based NCCC member was killed by a hit and run car accident.  Reid Huffman is his name.  He was 19 years old, from Gastonia, NC serving in his first year of NCCC.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Reid’s parents, the Weavers, as they deal with this terrible loss, and also with the team members and the staff.  I ask that you join me in a moment of silence to send supportive thoughts towards the family and friends of Reid. 

Thank you.

I look forward to continue working with this Board, agency staff, and grantees, partners, and service members to advance our mission and to make national service, volunteerism, and social innovation central to meeting our nation’s challenges.

That concludes my report.

Media Contact

Samantha Jo Warfield
(202) 606-6775

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