This letter to the editor appeared in The Mountain Press on December 31, 2016.
When President-elect Trump takes the oath of office in Washington, D.C. in January, he will officially assume the highest office in the land and with that, the responsibility of uniting our nation after one of the most contentious post-election periods in our history. Key to that unity will be national service and community volunteerism.
National service ignites and fuels citizens’ love of country and creates engaged citizens. It instills in our youth a sense of purpose. And through a shared civic experience, it can unite diverse Americans to find common ground.
Today, more than 75,000 dedicated young people serve in AmeriCorps annually. These extraordinary Americans tutor and mentor students, help people to lead healthier lives, help communities rebuild after natural disasters, provide job training and other services to returning veterans, and preserve the nation’s parks and public lands.
All told, these one million AmeriCorps members have provided over 1.4 billion hours of results-driven service to all 50 states.
Likewise, ‘Senior Corps’ currently links more than 270,000 Americans 55 years of age and older to service opportunities in their communities. Through Foster Grandparents, they serve as role models and mentors to children with exceptional needs. They help adults who have difficulty with daily tasks through the Senior Companions program, allowing these individuals to remain independent in their homes. And through RSVP, they work in local organizations and nonprofits, lending their individual skills and talents to better their communities.
Nowhere is the impact of national service members in Tennessee more tangible than in the response to the recent wildfires in Sevier County and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. By mid-December, more than 30 AmeriCorps members from the U.S. Southern Region and St. Louis were serving full-time in Sevier County. They completed intakes for nearly 600 families, supervised over 650 volunteers through the Volunteer Reception Center and helped sort more than 20 tons of donated goods … the work goes on.
Volunteer Tennessee (www.volunteertennessee.net), the governor’s commission on volunteerism and service, serves as the lead agency for volunteers and donations in times of disaster. In support of disaster response to wildfires, flooding, tornadoes/storms, and more, Volunteer Tennessee staff works through the State Emergency Operations Center to support local efforts to manage volunteers and donations across the state.
Volunteer Tennessee is also the vehicle through which AmeriCorps members are requested for disaster response.
At a time when the American people prefer action at the state and community level, it makes sense to promote voluntary service through public and private institutions in our hometowns that can help improve education, conservation, public health, disaster relief, veteran’s affairs, and economic opportunity.
As a Tennessean, I am proud to support the governor’s commission on volunteer service (Volunteer Tennessee) and all of the volunteer services across the state being provided through their efforts. Volunteer Tennessee is a non-partisan, governor-appointed commission funded jointly by the State and Federal budget. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is the very small federal agency through which the majority of funding flows to Volunteer Tennessee (https://www.nationalservice.gov).
As President-Elect Trump begins budget work with Congress, I encourage my fellow Tennesseans to ask our elected members of Congress to continue their support for future CNCS funding (Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Bob Corker and Representative Phil Roe). National service programs and volunteers have provided critical services to Tennessee communities in times of need for over half a century and your voice of support could well be a determining factor in continuing those services into the future.
Thank you, CNCS and AmeriCorps, for all you’ve done for Sevier County.
Jerry R. Herman, Ed.D.
State Program Director, CNCS Tennessee Field Office (Retired)