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Don't cut AmeriCorps funds

Cutting AmeriCorps funds hurts the city, state and country.

Congress recently proposed a bill that would destroy national service as we know it, cutting the number of AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers serving here in Baltimore and all across the country. This bill also cuts or eliminates programs like the Volunteer Generation Fund and the Social Innovation Fund — funds that are helping the nonprofit sector to build their capacity, engage more volunteers, and provide services sorely needed across our communities.

These cuts mean half as many AmeriCorps members serving with local programs like Civic Works, which meets community needs through tutoring and mentoring, nutrition education for children, and home safety repairs for senior citizens, all while providing opportunities for Baltimore residents to gain valuable job skills. Also cut would be Experience Corps, which provides academic support for students and health benefits to the older adult AmeriCorps members; Reading Partners, which utilizes AmeriCorps members in an evidence-based program that gets students reading on grade-level and on the path to success; and Volunteer Maryland, whose AmeriCorps members build the structures that make volunteer programs work, so all community members who want to give back can do so effectively at nonprofits and schools throughout our state.

More than 1,700 individuals serve as AmeriCorps members in Maryland each year, many right here in Baltimore, a city where recent unrest brought to light decades of challenges, many of which are being faced head on by AmeriCorps. These cuts will result in decreased resources, community support and skills training for Baltimoreans.

According to a report issued just last year, as AmeriCorps was recognized for 20 years of service, 84 percent of organizations that host AmeriCorps members report that they are able to engage additional volunteers; and 88 percent of organizations develop additional partnerships with the help of an AmeriCorps member. In dollar terms, every $1 invested in national service returns $3.95 to society in higher earnings, increased output, and other community-wide benefits.

I know that AmeriCorps works. AmeriCorps works by training people of all ages to engage in their community, by giving them the skills to succeed, by helping them see the power and responsibility each individual member of our society has to make it better.

AmeriCorps members build the capacity of nonprofit organizations so they can be more effective and more efficient. They support our schools and help our students succeed. They enable seniors and those with disabilities to live independently. AmeriCorps members clean up our lands and streams and teach others about the impact one can have on our natural environment. They provide housing services and emergency meals and job skills training. And AmeriCorps members serve in times of disaster — and they stay for years after those disasters leave the news and the minds of the general public.

National service is an essential component of the American fabric. At a time of extreme levels of division in our society, AmeriCorps pushes every one of us to work harder, to think smarter, to empathize more and to get things done to better our communities. On top of meeting community needs through service, AmeriCorps is a training ground for future employees across public and private sectors; 91 percent of AmeriCorps alumni have used the skills gained during their service in their life after AmeriCorps.

The average AmeriCorps program receives five applications for every available AmeriCorps position; for some programs, they receive as many as 13 applications for each opportunity. Americans are longing to serve; why will we deny them the opportunity? This bill would do just that. Rather than cut funding for national service, we should provide more opportunities to serve. Imagine every young person in Baltimore engaged in service, service that provided them skills to become more employable, service that built up their sense of self and knowledge of the world in which we live, service that improved the outcomes of their neighbors. Imagine how that would change the future of Baltimore, of Maryland, of our country.

I encourage my fellow Marylanders to join me in calling on their members of Congress to fully fund national service, to ensure that service remains a part of our city, our state, our country.

Maureen K. Eccleston is an AmeriCorps Alum and a previous director of the Maryland Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism. Her email is mkeccleston@gmail.com.

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