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AmeriCorps is a U.S. federal government program that was created under President Bill Clinton by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 Later expanded by 50 percent under President George W. Bush. The work done by these groups ranges from public education to environment clean-up.

AmeriCorps is a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which also oversees the Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America. Collectively, these three programs represent a total of more than 2 million members in service each year. AmeriCorps itself is split into three main divisions, including AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). More than 70,000 individuals currently join AmeriCorps annually, totaling more than 500,000 past and current members since 1994.

Research has illustrated that AmeriCorps programs have a variety of effects on civic education, education, and public service.

AmeriCorps programs

AmeriCorps State and National

AmeriCorps is headed by Acting Chief Executive Officer Nicola O. Goren. AmeriCorps State and National is the largest of the AmeriCorps programs, and provides grants to local and national organizations and agencies, including faith-based and community organizations, higher education institutions, and public agencies. Grants assist these groups in recruiting, training and placing AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. AmeriCorps State operates through Service Commissions in each state, such as Volunteer Florida and the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service; South Dakotamarker is the only state without a Service Commission. Each state's Service Commission dispenses funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service to organizations in their states through annual grant competitions. Thousands of organizations across the nation have been awarded AmeriCorps State and National grants since the program's inception.

AmeriCorps State and National members engage in direct service activities, such as after-school tutoring or homebuilding, and capacity-building activities, such as volunteer recruitment, for the organizations they serve. After successfully completing their term of service, AmeriCorps State and National members may receive an Education Award of up to $5,325. The Education Award can pay for additional college or graduate school courses, or it can pay off existing student loans. Full-time members typically complete 1,700 hours of service over 11 months' time; these members additionally receive a modest living allowance, health benefits, and child care during their term.

AmeriCorps NCCC

Example of an AmeriCorps NCCC Team age 18–24 (Source: Team Eagle 2, Perry Point, MD Campus: Service Year 9, 2003)
AmeriCorps NCCC, or National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), is a full-time, residential team-based program for men and women ages 18–24. Members serve at one of five regional campuses located throughout the United States (Perry Point, MD; Vicksburg, MS; Vinton, IA; Denver, CO; and Sacramento, CA). Each campus focuses efforts on states within its region but may travel to other areas in response to national crises. Former campuses were located in Washington, DC; Charleston, SC; and San Diego, CA.

AmeriCorps VISTA

AmeriCorps VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), was founded in 1965 as a domestic version of the Peace Corps. The program was incorporated into AmeriCorps and renamed AmeriCorps Vista with the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993. VISTA provides full-time members to nonprofit, faith-based and other community organizations, and public agencies to create and expand programs that ultimately bring low-income individuals and communities out of poverty. There are currently over 5,000 VISTA members serving in 1,200 VISTA programs nationwide.

Grantees

According to the AmeriCorps website, since the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993 more than 250,000 individuals across the United States have served hundreds of communities in every state of the nation. Some of the programs, organizations, and institutions funded through the AmeriCorps program include Communities In Schools, Jumpstart for Young Children, Citizen Schools, City Year, YMCA, Girl Scouts of the USA, Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers (US), Big Sisters (US), Camp Fire USA, Habitat for Humanity, the [Student Conservation Association,] Serve Rhode Island and Teach For America.

Successes

While ongoing discussion has occurred about the range and efficacy of evaluating the successes of AmeriCorps, there has been a variety of documentation supporting the program. AmeriCorps provided fiscal and personnel to support the start-up of innovative new national programs, including City Year, Public Allies and Teach For America. It also brought vital resources to established programs, including Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the American Red Cross.

AmeriCorps is reported to increase the effectiveness of community service. Successes for individual AmeriCorps members include increasing their commitment to community service, increasing community-based activism, connection to their communities, knowledge of community problems, engagement in the political process, and voting participation.

Additionally, according to a 2007 study released by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a majority of AmeriCorps alumni within the study period claimed they had gained life and job skills, such as leadership, teamwork, time-management, and hands-on experience in a field of interest. The study further reported that 71% of alumni were incentivized to join by the prospect of earning a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; 41% of AmeriCorps members went on to receive a 4-year college degree within three years of entering AmeriCorps.

Criticism

According to a 1998 report from Citizens Against Government Waste, AmeriCorps' operational cost amounted to $27,000 per volunteer per year.

In 2003, it was reported that AmeriCorps violated federal law by hiring more people than Congress had authorized, and had spent more money than was legally allowed.

In 1995, AmeriCorps gave a $1.1 million grant to an organization called Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). The grant eventually had to be returned.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton claimed that AmeriCorps members have "taught millions of children to read." However, in an article by libertarian pundit James Bovard, one unnamed official said the real number is probably less than a dozen, and Robert Sweet, the former director of the National Institute of Education, labelled it "a fraud." Bovard noted that some AmeriCorps volunteers are themselves GED students and welfare recipients, but did not say if any were found tutoring children in reading. One reading tutor did tell Bovard, "We're not teaching them to read... You just want them to think they're doing a good job." Much of the time where literacy teaching was supposed to be taking place was instead spent putting on puppet shows.These claims are widely disputed by an independent study commissioned by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which collected information from 869 first, second and third grade students whoreceived tutoring from a nationally representative sample of 68 AmeriCorps programs operating in schools and after-school programs. Tutored students at all grade levels improved their reading performance from pretest topost-test more than the gain expected for the typical child at their grade level. Contrary to Bovard's depiction of AmeriCorps tutors, the study put the average age of tutors at 27, with over 82% of those surveyed having previously taken courses at the college level.

In an article entitled "AmeriCorps: Six years of waste and fraud", Bovard reported that as of 2000 nearly half of all AmeriCorps members quit the program before finishing their term of service.

Articles suggest that AmeriCorps volunteers assist citizens with applying for welfare, food stamps, and public housing, and one organization who works with AmeriCorps also lobbies the government for more rent control and public housing.

AmeriCorps gave a grant to an organization called Mississippi Action for Community Education, or MACE, which is located in Greenville, Mississippimarker, one of the poorest cities in the United States. Bovard described MACE's headquarters as "one of the fanciest buildings in town. The plush leather chairs in the waiting room were in stark contrast to the shabbiness of the neighborhood. Uncle Sam has obviously been good to MACE, which has received money from several federal programs over the years."

The Los Angeles Times reported in 1994 that AmeriCorps funded a project that used the program's recruits to protest "third-strike" legislation. AmeriCorps gave a grant of $2.5 million to the Casa Verde Builders Program to build energy efficient homes in Texas. At that time of writing, only 23 of the 64 AmeriCorps members who signed up completed their work. However, the Casa Verde Builders Program was still allowed to keep the entire grant for its ongoing program, and is still active and recruiting volunteers today.

There have been a number of criticisms leveled against AmeriCorps. Some have alleged that the program diverts some young people participating in the program from further education, or delays the start of their careers. It has also been argued that AmeriCorps sends the wrong message by implying that volunteers should be paid for community service work.

Because it is a federal program, AmeriCorps is criticized for overshadowing the community service organizations it "partners" with. In 1996, for example, it was estimated that more than one-fourth of AmeriCorps volunteers were placed in federal, state, or local government agencies, "where they would reinforce the bureaucratic state, not rebuild the voluntary sector." The program also draws criticism for channeling tax dollars to liberal advocacy groups and activities that conservative groups find morally questionable, such as sex-education training and "self-esteem" enhancement projects. There are concerns about AmeriCorps' economic model, as well as its hiring practices.

Pledge

The Pledge is taken by AmeriCorps Members, who promise to uphold the duties of their position, and reads as follows:
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.


If passed, the 2002 Citizen Service Act (HR 4854), introduced by Representatives Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and Tim Roemer (D-IN) on May 24, 2002, would have added references to God and the Constitution to the pledge. AmeriCorps members would be called upon to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States...without any mental reservation...So help me God."

Those who supported changing the pledge argued that taking the new pledge would be voluntary for AmeriCorps members, and that it was similar to the pledge taken by all federal employees. However, the proposal stirred an outcry among current and former participants in the federally supported community service organization, who argued that the proposed pledge was divisive, "militaristic and religious," and might deter recruitment.

Although the Citizen Service Act was approved by both the Subcommittee on Special Education and the Committee on Education and the Workforce in June 2002, the House of Representatives took no further action on the Measure, and the pledge remains unchanged.

See also



References

  1. AmeriCorps is Changing the Minds of Congressional Republicans White House website, 1/15/01. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  2. Americorps.gov press release
  3. About AmeriCorps AmeriCorps website. Retrieved 6/1/08.
  4. AmeriCorps Longitudinal Study: Impacts on Members A fact sheet.
  5. AmeriCorps State and National. AmeriCorps website. Retrieved 12/4/08.
  6. AmeriCorps Benefits: Education Award. AmeriCorps website. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  7. AmeriCorps State and National. AmeriCorps website. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  8. Frequently Asked Questions About AmeriCorps Vista. AmeriCorps website. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  9. (2004) "Transcript - March 31 AmeriCorps Rulemaking Session," Corporation for National Service. p. 7. Retrieved 8/12/07.
  10. Gomperts, J. "Towards a bold new policy agenda: Five ideas to advance new civic engagement opportunities among older Americans," Generations. XXX(4). p. 87.
  11. VeraWorks. (2006) "AmeriCorps Service Effects on Member Civic Engagement." Washington State Office of Financial Management. Retrieved 8/12/07.
  12. ABT Associates. “Serving Country and Community: A Longitudinal Study of Service in AmeriCorps Factsheet”. Retrieved 8/12/07.
  13. McBurney, S. (1998) AmeriCorps the Pitiful. Citizens Against Government Waste. Retrieved 7/25/07.
  14. Sanchez, J. (2003) "Denial of Service: The battle over AmeriCorps," Reason Magazine. 10/03. Retrieved 7/25/07.
  15. Bovard, J. (2000) "Americorps: Six years of waste and fraud," Capital Research Centre. Retrieved 7/25/07.
  16. Corporation for National Service (2001) "AmeriCorps Tutoring Outcomes Study" Retrieved 8/29/09.
  17. Van Til, J., Gallup, Jr., G.H., and Pettrone Swalve, D.A. "Colloquy: AmeriCorps- National service in the Clinton Era", The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  18. Walters, J.P. (January & February 1996) "Clinton's AmeriCorps Values: How the president misunderstands citizenship," Policy Review. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  19. McBurney, S. (1998) AmeriCorps the Pitiful. Citizens Against Government Waste. Retrieved 7/25/07.
  20. Beaucar Vlahos, K. (March 20, 2006) The education credit "AmeriCorps on Budget Chopping Block", Fox News. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  21. "The AmeriCorps Pledge", AmeriCorps.gov. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  22. (November 29, 2002) "One pledge fits all", SFGate. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  23. Marquis, C. (November 21, 2002) "Revised pledge for AmeriCorps draws criticism", The New York Times. Retrieved 12/5/08.
  24. "House Report 110-420-Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act or the `Give Act'". Retrieved 12/5/08.


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