Washington, D.C. - To help implement landmark national service legislation, the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service turned the microphone over to nearly 50 speakers who shared their thoughts on the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at a public listening session earlier today.
Members of the bipartisan board, along with senior leadership of the agency, heard a wide range views about the legislation, which President Obama signed into law on April 21. The listening session was the third in a series of six taking place across the country. The sessions are one of several ways the Corporation is gathering input on the legislation and its next five-year strategic plan. The agency has also launched an interactive web page to receive and display comments from the public, and will hold conference calls in June.
“This is a historic time – the beginning of a new era in national service, thanks to a strongly supportive President, bipartisan Congressional majorities, and a growing national consensus that service must be a part of the solution to the great challenges facing our nation,” said Board Chairman Alan Solomont.
“We're here today to listen, and learn, from your perspectives as those who translate public policy into service to help people.”
Solomont recognized the legislation is complex and that stakeholders may not agree on everything, but that all shared a desire to make the most of this opportunity to expand national service. He thanked the agency staff for actively reaching out to get input, and offered a resolution directing the CEO to continue the open and transparent process and keep the Board apprised of its results.
The Serve America Act, which goes into effect on October 1, will usher in a new era of service and volunteering by expanding opportunities for Americans of all ages to serve and focusing service on tackling tough national challenges. Among other provisions, the law reauthorizes and expands the Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs; puts AmeriCorps on a path to grow from 75,000 to 250,000 positions by 2017; increases opportunities for students and older Americans to serve; and strengthens America's civic infrastructure by investing in social innovation and volunteer generation.
Today's listening session was part of the Board's spring public meeting. Board Chair Alan Solomont kicked off the meeting by noting a series of achievements in recent months: a record turnout on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the inclusion of $200 million in the Recovery Act to support 13,000 new AmeriCorps positions, a FY 2010 budget that proposes a 29% increase for the Corporation and its programs, and the passage of the Serve America Act.
While noting those milestones, Solomont emphasized that they are part of a larger trend. “What's happening is much bigger than any legislation, it's a change in the civic values of our nation, fueled in part by the economic crisis; supported by the President, First Lady, and Congress; and driven by a new generation of Americans who have service in their blood,” Solomont said. “While the economic crisis is making times much more difficult, national service gives us cause for great hope in the future.”
In her report, Acting CEO Nicola Goren commended Corporation staff for performing at an “amazing and backbreaking level” and thanked for the Board for providing strong leadership during the transition and throughout the process that led to passage of the Serve America Act. While proud of recent accomplishments, Goren pointed to the long road ahead, including implementing the legislation, developing a new five-year strategic plan, making and managing grants, working with Congress on the 2010 budget, strengthening technology systems, and continuing all other operations.
In other business, the Board bid farewell to Donna Williams, who served with distinction for three terms on the Board since April 2003. The Board passed a resolution recognizing Williams for her leadership in advancing internal management and financial accountability, streamlining burdens on grantees, and bolstering the agency's work in disaster preparedness and response.