From the beginning, AmeriCorps was designed to be a national service program rooted in communities, and run by community, faith-based and nonprofit organizations. Over its first decade, communities came to rely on AmeriCorps to address their most pressing challenges. But in 2003, AmeriCorps faced an existential threat. A series of events led to massive cuts in funding for AmeriCorps, crippling the field’s infrastructure and leaving programs scrambling to survive. In response, national service leaders banned together, become a unified, passionate, and effective voice for AmeriCorps.
Busloads of AmeriCorps alumni, community members, and program and state commission leaders descended on Washington for 100 consecutive hours of citizen testimony on Capitol Hill. Mayors and governors of both parties made the case that AmeriCorps was a critical stream of people power they needed to meet local and state needs. Newspapers across the country editorialized about the essential need for AmeriCorps in their communities. While we couldn’t restore funding that year, the following year AmeriCorps received the largest appropriation in its then 10-year history. That was the birth of Voices for National Service.
Working together, we broke through the noise – and won. We showed that AmeriCorps was a beloved and essential institution in communities across America.
In the two decades since, Voices for National Service has led the effort to dramatically increase resources for AmeriCorps, making it possible for more Americans of every background to serve. We have worked successfully as the primary resource for lawmakers and presidents of both parties to expand national service, providing expertise to identify policy challenges and solutions – even in the face of efforts to eliminate funding for AmeriCorps altogether.
We have written service bills, informed policy reforms and provided technical support to strengthen impact and increase funding for AmeriCorps. In 2004, we worked closely with national service champions in Congress to establish National Service Caucuses in the House and Senate and we continue to support the work of those caucuses today. We are especially proud of the expanded, bipartisan leadership of the Caucus for the 118th Congress.
The successes of our coalition are many, including the passage of the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the largest expansion of national service in nearly a century. More recently, in 2021, we led the successful campaign to secure $1 billion in new funding through the American Rescue Plan Act to increase benefits for those who serve through AmeriCorps and deploy additional members to support their communities’ unique needs as they respond to and recover from COVID-19.
We know that AmeriCorps is the great force multiplier. For every $1 that congress appropriates to national service, more than $17 is returned to society, program members, and the government. The 200,000 members of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors are dispatched and embedded in our communities, responding to the country’s most immediate and critical needs, and supporting local nonprofit, faith-based, and community organizations. From natural disaster response to providing services for veterans, AmeriCorps grants and service members power organizations like the American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Habitat for Humanity.
The Friends of National Service Awards has been a powerful bipartisan gathering and a testament to the breadth of support for AmeriCorps. This year felt particularly special, and we were encouraged by the bipartisan champions who attended including Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Todd Young (R-IN), Ben Ray Luan (D-NM) and Ed Markey (D-MA), and Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK), Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Gwen Moore (D-WI). At a time of funding uncertainty, it is great to have these leaders in our corner, in addition to all the national service champions we honored. We are also particularly grateful to Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), our champion-in-chief, who so skillfully and passionately leads us in our journey each and every day.
We have come a long way from those early days in 2003, but much work remains. Today, we recommit ourselves to the goal that brought us together twenty years ago: making possible the day when every American is asked and allowed to serve their nation and community.
We hope you will join us in this commitment. If you are not a member of the Voices for National Service coalition, click here to learn more about membership. You can also donate to help us in this fight. And we need each of you to reach out to your lawmakers to urge them to support, grow, and advance AmeriCorps.
Let’s work together for the next 20 years, and more, to ensure a thriving, innovative, and robust AmeriCorps.