Five years ago this month – during the height of the economic downturn – Democrats and Republicans came together to invest in a bedrock of the American spirit: serving others.
Five years later and Ohioans have truly exemplified what it means to serve. 10,000 Ohioans work to improve their local communities by serving at one of our state's 1500 national service locations, made possible by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
The CNCS invests in communities throughout the United States by training volunteers, awarding grants, and implementing service programs. For Americans that are struggling financially, the aid of national service programs can provide them with much need support during trying times. This year, CNCS will commit nearly $30 million to support Ohio communities.
The work of the national service members is the result of a public-private partnership between CNCS and corporate donors who provide 40% of the overall program budget. This funding helps to implement important programs such as job training for veterans, financial literacy education, and distribution of donations after a natural disaster.
The two core member service programs of the CNCS are AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. These programs provide opportunities for Americans of all ages to serve those that are in need. Volunteers serve in one of six focus areas: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. More than 1,500 individuals serve in Ohio through AmeriCorps, while more than 9,300 seniors utilize their golden years to help others through Senior Corps.
National service members are supported in their work through federal benefits. Members of AmeriCorps receive a living allowance, health coverage, childcare if eligible, as well as a variety of other benefits. Upon completion of a full-time 10-12 month program, they are eligible for the Segal Education Award, currently valued at $5645. This award can be used to repay qualified student loans and to pay for educational training and higher education at qualified institutions.
Senior Corps offers members supplemental insurance while on duty and some Senior Corp programs offer meals while on duty and/or stipends.
Last year, I visited John Jay High School in Cleveland where I saw firsthand how national service is helping to expand education opportunity in Ohio. I sat in on a weekly program, led by an AmeriCorps VISTA member who helped more than twenty 11th graders apply and prepare for college. Many of those students were the first in their family to attend college and AmeriCorp provided them with much needed guidance to navigate the process.
AmeriCorps VISTA also partners with the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to provide low-income children with free, healthy meals and snacks. In Ohio, over 800,000 children receive free or reduced lunches during the school year, but in the summer months many of them go hungry. Due to the increased number of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in 2012, summer feeding sites like the E.L Hardy Center in Columbus were able to dramatically increase the number of children they served. This would not have been possible without the volunteered work of national service members.
I believe in service because we all have a duty to help improve our communities and uplift our fellow Americans. And as a member of the National Service Congressional Caucus, I have worked to expand national service and to raise awareness about the work that our national service members do.
If you are interested in strengthening communities in your country by participating in community service, visit http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs to learn more about the national service opportunities available to you.