Written by Travis D. Tester with some content from an earlier edition by
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) was “established to connect Americans of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to give back to their communities and their nation” (CNCS). At its inception, it was directed to manage three main programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America.
AmeriCorps is an exciting program that involves more than 80,000 Americans each year who work to meet community needs. Voluntary service in AmeriCorps may be either full- or part-time. Service is provided to communities through all kinds of nonprofits, public agencies, and religious organizations. One branch, AmeriCorps VISTA, is Volunteers in Service to America. It is a yearlong commitment and its members work to "bring individuals and communities out of poverty" (AmeriCorps). Another branch is AmeriCorps NCCC, which stands for the National Civilian Community Corps. This is where an individual between the ages of 18-24 commits to a "10-month, full-time residential service program" (AmeriCorps). In 2012 NCCC-FEMA Corps was created out of the collaboration between AmeriCorps NCCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). NCCC-FEMA Corps Members are solely devoted to disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. This collaboration adds an additional 1,000 members annually within NCCC (AmeriCorps NCCC Member Handbook 2017, p. 4).
In the application process, a person chooses several different places where they would like to live while they serve in AmeriCorps. Assignments can be as little as three months or up to a year. While each AmeriCorps member will obtain job experience and special training, those who serve in a full-time capacity will receive a modest monthly living allowance, limited medical benefits, up to $400 a month for childcare, and some may qualify for postponement or forbearance on student loans. Members also receive an “End of Service Award” to pay for a range of educational expenses after their assignment fulfillment. The AmeriCorps programs work on "environment, education, public safety, and other human needs" (AmeriCorps).
"The mission of AmeriCorps is to provide opportunities for Americans of all ages to help improve the nation through service—making our streets safer, our environment cleaner, our children healthier, and our schools better" (AmeriCorps NCCC Member Handbook 2017).
The AmeriCorps Pledge:
I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps Member and I will get things done! (AmeriCorps NCCC Member Handbook 2017, p. 60).
The reasoning behind AmeriCorps comes from a long historical tradition of community service through civic associations. As early as 1835, the French nobleman and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noted, in his book “Democracy in America,” how very important groups of people working together were to the health of our democratic society (Tocqueville 2000).
In the 20th century, America´s "tradition of service" has taken a lot of different forms. One was President Franklin D. Roosevelt´s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), where four million people worked to restore parks, revitalize the economy and support their families. Later, with World War II, the G.I. Bill "linked service to education" as a reward for community service. Then John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps. Also in 1964, during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, VISTA was created to help poor communities. Senior Service Programs, Peace Corps and VISTA combined in 1970 to form the Action Agency, along with other programs in the 1980s that were started for older Americans in community service (Guide to the Corporation for National Service 1997).
This led to "support for the passage of the National and Community Service Act of 1990" and in 1992 a bipartisan group of senators worked with President Bush and drafted the legislation for the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). It was then that President Bill Clinton, in 1993, expanded "opportunities for Americans to serve their country and earn awards for their own education in return." Congress approved this law and President Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act on September 21, 1993 (Guide to the Corporation for National Service 2017). The Corporation for National Service oversees three branches—AmeriCorps, National Senior Service Corps, and Learn and Serve America, formerly known as Serve America (Hartzell 1997). The Obama administration set in motion “a major program expansion of AmeriCorps over the coming decade” (Frumkin). This corporation supports services at the national, state, and local levels, and through it more than a million Americans each year serve their communities (A Guide to Effective Citizenship Through AmeriCorps 2001, n.p.).
While AmeriCorps produces many benefits, its primary purpose is to help communities solve critical human, educational, environmental, and public safety problems. AmeriCorps’ efforts are focused in six key areas: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. Through these six areas, members make our communities safer, stronger, healthier, and improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens. AmeriCorps also strengthens nonprofits and the volunteer sector by supporting community groups to expand services, build capacity, raise funds, and assist in creating innovative and sustainable programs. AmeriCorps’ members are future leaders throughout the world. Through their service they gain new and useful skills, become more connected to their own communities, and advance their education. A longitudinal study has shown that AmeriCorps alumni are more likely to be civically engaged, to go into public service careers such as teaching, public safety, social work, and military service, and to volunteer in their communities (AmeriCorps). Additionally, based on research it also shows “AmeriCorps alumni from racial and ethnic minority groups and from disadvantaged circumstances are significantly more likely to go into public service careers” (CNCS Office of Research and Policy Development Executive Study, p. 1).
In two decades, more than one million men and women have taken the AmeriCorps pledge, serving over one billion hours across the U.S. (Clinton Foundation 2014). AmeriCorps gives young people a way to invest in the wellbeing of other people and in the welfare of the nation in general. In short, AmeriCorps, through its programs, builds a better future for America.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The AmeriCorps program is very tied to the philanthropic sector. AmeriCorps members serve in the program by being placed at a charity, religious social services organization, public agency, or school. These agencies apply to the Corporation for National Service for money and, if they are approved, receive a federal grant which they may use to recruit people in the AmeriCorps program (e.g. the AmeriCorps NCCC’s ten-month program commitment).
This support of the philanthropic sector comes in two important ways: government funds and who choose to join a program. By working together, they support worthy nonprofits to assist in building a healthier, stronger, and more sustainable communities across the nation.
For example, the National Service in Colorado has 1,112 local service sites; 7,084 Senior Corps AmeriCorps members; $72.6 million invested by Corporation for National Service and local funding; and $76.6 million AmeriCorps scholarships earned since 1994 (Corporation for National Service).
Key Related Ideas
- Community service is a term that used to mean "unpaid work, intended to be of social use, that an offender is required to do instead of going to prison" (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary). It has since become more commonly used within nonprofits as “voluntary work intended to help people in a particular area” (The Oxford Dictionary).
- National service is a term that used to mean "a period of compulsory service in the armed forces during peacetime" (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary). Several countries around the world have established service programs. One might work in the army or in civilian service, so the term is no longer a just a military one. It still means service toward one´s country.
- Service has the potential to build networks of relationships among individuals, linking them to the larger community. The value of service, like compassion, lies in its potential to set in motion a series of relationships that spreads throughout the entire society (Wuthnow 1991, 300) (Perry 1999). Service comes in multiple forms as we have seen, but its basic meaning is “the action of helping or doing work for someone; an act of assistance” (The Oxford Dictionary).
- Volunteer is a term that generally means "a person who freely offers to do something" or "a person who works for an organization without being paid" (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary). While one could argue that applying to the AmeriCorps or Peace Corps they are being paid (they receive a modest monthly allowance), they are still seen as volunteers. These programs focus on community service and improving people’s lives. It´s just enough to meet basic living needs. The real rewards in AmeriCorps is knowing you’re building stronger communities, expanding opportunities, and meeting unmet needs.
Important People Related to the Topic
By the very nature of the AmeriCorps program, each person who participates is an essential part of its overall success, though specific others have significantly affected the AmeriCorps programs.
- George W. Bush (1946-): George Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. He is a Republican politician, and was former governor of Texas from 1995-2000 (The Biographical Dictionary 2004). President Bush is the only President in U.S. history to expand a National Service Program that he didn´t create, taking AmeriCorps numbers from 50,000 to 75,000 annually (Lenkowsky 2004).
- Bill Clinton (1946-): Bill Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States, from 1993-2001. A Democratic politician, President Clinton was also a professor at the University of Arkansas Law School, attorney general of Arkansas, and Governor of Arkansas from 1979-1981, and from 1983-1992. He supported AmeriCorps as a way to provide community service and also as a way for young middle-class people to help pay for college. He signed the National and Community Service Trust Act in 1993 (The Biographical Dictionary 2004).
- Leslie Lenkowsky (1946-): Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky is the retired Director of Graduate Programs for Philanthropic Studies at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University--Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). President Bush appointed him to the head of the Corporation for National and Community Service, where he served from 2001 to 2004. Dr. Lenkowsky states that his mission was to "preserve and improve" the program (Lenkowsky 2004).
- Barack Obama (1961-): Barack Obama was the 44th United States President, from 2009 – 2017. He attended Harvard Law School and became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, then returned to Illinois to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago to began a career in public service, winning seats in the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate (Barack Obama 2017). In 2009 President Obama signed a bipartisan law to expand and strengthen national service programs known as the Edward M. Kennedy Service America Act. The Act “will more than triple the number of positions in the AmeriCorps program, from 75,000 to 250,000, by 2017. All that’s required on your part is a willingness to make a difference. And that is, after all, the beauty of service. Anybody can do it" (CNN Politics 2009).
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC): Community HealthCorps is the largest health-focused national AmeriCorps program, promoting health care for America's underserved, while developing tomorrow's health care work force. More than 650 Community HealthCorps members serve each year through 40 partner organizations across 19 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (www.nachc.org).
- Habitat for Humanity is an international, nonprofit, faith-based organization that builds affordable homes for people in need. It began in 1976 and is supported by former President Jimmy Carter. Habitat is also an employer for AmeriCorps volunteers (www.habitat.org).
- Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center National Network is another organization that works for community service across the nation, encouraging all kinds of people to volunteer. This organization believes that volunteering isn´t just "nice," but it is "necessary." It also believes in getting people in need involved (www.pointsoflight.org) (www.leaningtogive.org/resources/points-light-institute).
- Teach For America is a national service program that was the vision of a college student, Wendy Kopp, in 1988. In this program, college graduates teach for two years in "the nation´s neediest urban and rural public schools." Since 1990, more than 50,000 people have participated in the program and there are over 53 sites around the country (www.teachforamerica.org).
Based on the different branches of the AmeriCorps, which would you identify with the most and why?
- AmeriCorps. Who We Are. http://www.americorps.gov/about/ac/index.asp
- The Office of Barack and Michelle Obama. Barack Obama. https://barackobama.com/about/
- The Biographical Dictionary. Bill Clinton. Available from Purdue University Libraries.
- Clinton Foundation. 5 Ways to Celebrate AmeriCorps’ 20 years of Service. https://www.clintonfoundation.org/blog/2014/08/29/5-ways-celebrate-americorps-20-years-service
- "community service n." The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. [database online].
- “community service n.” The Oxford Dictionary. [database online]
- Corporation for National Service. AmeriCorps NCCC Member Handbook. Washington, D.C. 2017.
- Corporation for National Service. Guide to the Corporation for National Service. Washington, D.C. February 1997.
- Corporation for National Service. Guide to Effective Citizenship Through AmeriCorps. Washington, D.C. August 2001.
- Corporation for National and Community Service. History. https://www.nationalservice.gov/about/who-we-are/our-history
- Frumkin, Peter, Joann Jastrzab. Serving Country & Community: Who benefits from National Service. Harvard University Press, 2010.
- Hartzell, Nedra Klee. Life After AmeriCorps: Next Steps. Washington, D.C.: Corporation for National Service, 1997.
- "national service n." The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. [database online]. Available from IUPUI University Libraries.
- “Obama signs national legislation,” 2009. CNN Politics. http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/21/obama.service/
- Perry, James L., and others. “Insdie a Swiss Army Knife: An Assessment of AmeriCorps.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 1999. 2:225-250.
- Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN: 0226805328.
- "volunteer n." The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. [database online]. Available from IUPUI University Libraries.
This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.