National Service: A Resource for Cities
As Mayors and other city leaders work to meet increasing demands for social services, many are recognizing the critical role that citizen volunteers can play in meeting community needs. Research has shown that cities with high levels of volunteering and civic engagement have a higher quality of life–stronger local economies, less crime, more parental engagement in schools. While volunteers have always been critical to a city's social and economic well-being, their importance is magnified in difficult economic times, as more residents experience social ills at the same time many service providers face declining resources.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that provides opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve their communities and country. As the nation's largest grantmaker for service and volunteering, CNCS builds the capacity of America's nonprofit sector and expands the reach and impact of volunteers in addressing pressing social problems. CNCS engages more than five million Americans in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs each year and supports thousands of nonprofit and public agencies that use volunteers through grants, training, technical assistance, research and other resources.
CNCS encourages Mayors and other city leaders to explore how our grants and other resources can help increase your city's capacity to meet local needs through service, expand opportunities to serve, catalyze social innovation, and strengthen the civic infrastructure. National Service strategic priorities are: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.
Below are some examples of how national service resources have been put to work in cities across the country.
AmeriCorps–Intensive Service to Meet Community Needs
AmeriCorps provides opportunities for more than 80,000 Americans each year to give intensive service to their communities and country through three programs: AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). AmeriCorps members tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs, help communities respond to disasters, and build the capacity of nonprofit groups to become self-sustaining, among many other activities.
AmeriCorps State and National: As the largest branch of AmeriCorps, the state and national grants program provides financial support to public and nonprofit organizations that sponsor service programs around the country to recruit, train and place AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs in disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. Mayors and cities are eligible to apply for AmeriCorps grants, and most likely would apply through the AmeriCorps State program administered by their state service commission. Grant guidelines and deadlines for funds are determined by each state.
AmeriCorps VISTA: VISTA members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, strengthen community groups, and much more. VISTAs improve the ability of organizations to alleviate poverty by raising funds, recruiting community volunteers, and designing sustainable programs. Applications to administer VISTA projects are submitted to CNCS State Offices. Mayors could apply for VISTAs that work directly out of the Mayor's offices or they might be placed in a coalition of organizations throughout the city.
AmeriCorps NCCC: AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, team-based residential program for individuals age 18-24. NCCC members are based at 5 regional campuses and are organized into teams of 10-12 members. Members serve in the region's local communities by responding to community needs in the areas of: Natural and Other Disasters, Environmental Conservation and Stewardship, Energy Conservation, Urban and Rural Development, and Infrastructure Improvement. Teams are available to carry out multi-week service projects. Mayors, city officials, municipal and state governments, national parks, or community organizations can apply for a team by going to the AmeriCorps NCCC page.
Senior Corps: Engaging a Generation of Experience Each year Senior Corps taps the skills, talents, and experience of more than 300,000 Americans age 55 and older to meet a wide range of community challenges through three programs: RSVP, the Foster Grandparent Program, and the Senior Companion Program. RSVP volunteers help local police departments conduct safety patrols, participate in environmental projects, provide intensive educational services to children and adults, and respond to natural disasters, among many other activities. Foster Grandparents serve one-on-one as tutors and mentors to young people with special needs. Senior Companions help homebound seniors and other adults maintain independence in their own homes. Cities and other public agencies are eligible to administer these programs.
Other Resources for Cities
Beyond its program support, the Corporation offers a variety of resources that can help cities expand the scope and impact of volunteering by their residents.
Training and Technical Assistance
■ CNCS’s Resource Center provides training and technical assistance to national service programs and nonprofit organizations seeking to expand their volunteer capacity.
Data on Service and Volunteering
■ CNCS’s annual Volunteering in America report is the most comprehensive data on volunteering ever assembled, providing detailed information on volunteering trends and demographics in the U.S., all fifty states, and more than 150 major cities. Each year, CNCS produces National Service State Profiles that list all CNCS funding and projects for Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America in every state.
Days of Service
■ The Martin Luther King Day Jr. National Day of Service, taking place the third Monday of every January, supports community organizations in their efforts to engage local citizens in service on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday.
■ The 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance encourages Americans to remember the heroes and victims of 9/11 by honoring their memory through acts of community service.
■ The President's Volunteer Service Award promotes volunteer service by recognizing individuals, families, and groups for completing a certain number of volunteer hours. More than 31,000 certifying organizations have bestowed more than 1.65 million awards to the Nation's deserving volunteers since 2003. Mayor's offices are eligible to become certifying organizations.
■ The President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll honors colleges and universities for the commitment of their students, faculty, and staff to community service.