National Service: A National Responsibility
As a nation we are dependent on the active involvement of friends, neighbors, and colleagues to make our country function. Imagine what it would be like if we had no Bill of Rights or democratic principles that at times even require all to sacrifice for the good of the country. During times of national disasters and emergencies we see the volunteer efforts and personal giving of many Americans. The basic everyday principles and foundations that enable our government to function depend on an engaged citizenry. Whether at the community, state or national level we need involved and engaged individuals. Our democracy needs leaders who know how to resolve conflicts, inspire others to great heights, and stand for the overall public good. Service to the nation in support of the greater good is a quality in great demand today. One important way to live and absorb these experiences at home is through our country’s national civilian service opportunity – AmeriCorps.
Presidents have long recognized the value of national service as a way to support the fundamentals of our democracy. President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in response to the Great Depression. In 1965, President Johnson created Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) to help address the root causes of poverty in the United States. The Youth Conservation Corps developed by Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington State in the 1970’s was signed into law by President Carter. President George H.W. Bush established the Commission for National and Community Service in 1990. Under the leadership of President Clinton, Congress passed the statute creating America’s newest national service program, AmeriCorps, in 1992. Although the Congressional appropriations for these initiatives have been in flux throughout their existence, these national service programs have provided opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Americans to experience first hand the rewards and responsibilities of what it truly means to be an American. Our nation is better off because those who experience national service continue these efforts throughout their lives.
As the final stage in the Congressional appropriations process begins, both the House and Senate have proposed reductions in funding for AmeriCorps in the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 versus FY 2006. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is presently developing the President’s FY 2008 appropriations request. When faced with the destruction caused by hurricanes in the Gulf Coast in 2005, most Americans wanted to assist those who have suffered so much. This is a time for a major expansion by the federal government so all Americans can be challenged to serve. Likewise, many of those directly impacted by the devastation want to help their neighbors rebuild. National civilian service, specifically AmeriCorps, can be the unifying effort that brings all Americans together for the common purpose of building a nation that is truly strong. One cannot leave the ravages of the Gulf Coast without wanting to stand shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters born of a common democracy. Imagine what it would be like for everyday Americans from all backgrounds to take a year off to serve others. It is time for national civilian service to be that unifying effort that enables all Americans to take up this national responsibility. Our democracy needs this type of civic mindedness. Our country has people who want to serve.