Presidents, elected officials, salute AmeriCorps’ impact and effectiveness
WASHINGTON, DC – Twenty years after the signing of the legislation creating AmeriCorps, nearly 1,000 supporters and alumni gathered today to recognize the transforming impact the national service program has had on communities and the lives of those who have served.
The anniversary tribute featured reflections from Members of Congress, testimonials by current and former AmeriCorps members, a new “AmeriCorps Turns 20” video, and stories from some of the original architects who helped design and launch the program 20 years ago.
President Clinton signed the bipartisan National and Community Service Trust Act on September 21, 1993, creating AmeriCorps and uniting VISTA, Senior Corps, and other service programs under a new federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Since then, more 820,000 men and women have served in AmeriCorps, providing more than 1 billion hours of service addressing critical challenges from poverty and hunger to disasters and the dropout crisis.
In a video message, former President Clinton recognized the key role AmeriCorps plays in strengthening civic engagement and building a stronger economic future. "Public service and its commitment to the greater good is a reflection of our most cherished values and promises as Americans.... Thanks to all of you for stepping up and answering the call to strengthen communities, make a difference in our country, and build a better future. It is noble work. I couldn't be more proud of what AmeriCorps is today, and I can't wait for the next 20 years."
Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, reflected on the importance of national service to strengthening citizenship and achieving national priorities. He shared a message from President Obama recognizing AmeriCorps value. “Whether assisting the unemployed, rebuilding after disasters, supporting veterans and military families, or guiding young people toward a brighter future, AmeriCorps members improve countless lives each year and represent the best of our Nation’s character,” President Obama’s message said.
This summer, the President created an interagency task force to develop strategies to expand national service to meet national needs through partnerships with other Federal agencies and the private sector. Building on the success of FEMA Corps and School Turnaround AmeriCorps, the task force will develop new partnerships to engage more Americans in tackling pressing challenges while expanding opportunity and building the pipeline of Americans ready to enter public service.
Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS, thanked the champions who worked hard to build AmeriCorps two decades ago and continue to support and strengthen it today. She encouraged the AmeriCorps field to make plans for a nationwide simultaneous AmeriCorps swearing-in ceremony on September 12, 2014. She also challenged the field to use the momentum of the anniversary and the new interagency task force to create more opportunities for national service.
“This task force is not only about how federal agencies can work together, it’s about how we can work with you, how you can work with partners on the state and local level. This is a really good shot in the arm for us, and a lot of wind at our back. “
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi spoke about the gratitude his state has for AmeriCorps members who have responded in times of disaster, and emphasized the benefits of their service for everyone involved. “After Katrina, after the oil spill, after our tornadoes… AmeriCorps was there. Volunteers of all ages, of all types, from all organizations – were there to help us in our time of need.”
Several AmeriCorps members talked about how their service made a difference in their lives and careers.
Abby Flottenmesch is one of three children in her family to serve with AmeriCorps, spending a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Puerto Rico, far from her home in northern Minnesota. She remarked, “Through AmeriCorps, we each discovered more of who we are because we were given the opportunity to apply, explore, and develop our talents while building or re-building communities. … Lessons and important skills learned through service.” She now works for Atlas Corps, a program that melds the qualities of Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.
Charles Adams began his service career with Public Allies, where he noted that, “Unbeknownst to me, AmeriCorps would be my road map and my guide.” His experiences working with children in the program led to a 20-year career as an educator in Brooklyn, NY, Philadelphia, and in Washington, DC, where he is now the head of the SEED Public Charter School.
Summing up the challenge ahead, Vicki Kennedy spoke of her husband’s commitment to service and asked the audience to continue building new avenues for Americans to serve. “Now it’s up to us to join together in the spirit of those who fought the good fight before us – to finish the job – to realize the dream -- to fulfill the promise to give hundreds of thousands of Americans the opportunity to give back to their communities and to this nation we love so much.”