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Show Me a Program That Does as Much as AmeriCorps

February 17, 2011
By: Caleb Jonas, AmeriCorps alum, organizer of the Save AmeriCorps Petition and creator of the Stand for AmeriCorps campaign, the official campaign of AmeriCorps Alums.

When I was in the 4th grade, I was diagnosed with two different learning disabilities that made it difficult for me to perform well in school. Thanks to the support of my parents and teachers, I got the help I needed to succeed.

When I got to my private high school, I began to realize that there were a lot of kids who faced bigger challenges than I had, but didn’t have parents or schools with the resources I grew up with. As I grew into a more successful student, I spent my summers working as a teacher and tutor with low-income students. The better I got to know my students, the more I understood that they were just as motivated, talented, and capable as my more fortunate peers.

In college, I studied political science and volunteered on political campaigns in an attempt to change the system that produced these inequities. Some of my candidates won, and some of them lost, but I still didn’t see any improvement in the lives of the neediest families.

My first job after graduating was a year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member with the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation.  My job was to design a citywide partnership of tutoring programs. I worked to help our partners to learn from each other’s best ideas, and communicate more effectively with the schools and teachers of the students they supported. As a result, students received academic support that was more effective, better targeted at their individual needs, and connected to their classroom curriculum. I’ve found that a common misperception about AmeriCorps is that members operate independently, or under the direction of some voice in Washington D.C. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I worked day in and day out with church-based groups, recreation centers, charter schools, and the local YMCA.

When I completed my year of service, I took over the broader City of Saint Paul AmeriCorps Program that had overseen my placement. In this job, I got to oversee the work of 20 AmeriCorps*VISTA members, and work with colleagues who directed other national service programs. This gave me a perspective on the amazing work that AmeriCorps members were doing across Minnesota: building houses for Habitat for Humanity, working to help political and refugees start a new life in Minnesota, improving reading test scores for thousands of elementary school students, and working to get thousands of high school students into college.

Now, I’m lucky enough to be a joint degree student in Public Policy at Harvard, and Business at Stanford. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t served as an AmeriCorps member. My year of service taught me that I could make a measurable difference in the world, and allowed me to apply my skills to the cause that was most important to me.

When I heard that the Republican Leadership in the House of Representatives wanted to eliminate AmeriCorps, I immediately thought of the students who beat the odds to excel academically, with the help of AmeriCorps members. As one of the oldest threads in our national fabric, service shouldn’t be partisan issue, especially in a recession. The loss of AmeriCorps would do the most harm to vulnerable families and communities already struggling to weather the recession.

I know that America is in financial trouble, that we need to address the deficit, and we need to make hard decisions about government spending. However, I defy anyone to show me a program that accomplishes as much as AmeriCorps does. Think about it: AmeriCorps instills the ethic of service in members, places them in community organizations that are desperate for resources, and charges them with tasks that provide critical resources and support to struggling Americans.

Just over a year ago, Congress voted to expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 members, based on the program’s overwhelmingly positive impact in helping build a stronger America. Since then, our economy has suffered, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and the poverty rate is growing dangerously. This is a moment when we should be looking to grow AmeriCorps to help keep the nation strong.


To join the fight to Save AmeriCorps, please contact your Congressional representative(s), sign the petition and register at to get updates and stay active!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. José Vega Rivera permalink
    March 2, 2011 10:32 am

    The lack of resources in small and poor communities, are in need of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer programs to help eradicate poverty in marginized communities in Puerto Rico. The level of poverty in health and education is very low according to statistics in Puerto Rico. Through this program of support for poor and isolated communities, these communities are given education and orientation health for the aging population that has been isolated and without medical attention. Farm workers with minimal education and without knowledge in how pesticides affect them and their families are orientated. We as volunteers from the United States united efforts to improve the quality of life of our communities in Puerto Rico.

  2. Sandra Rivera permalink
    March 2, 2011 1:26 pm

    VISTA has been on the frontline in the fight against poverty in America for over 40 years, VISTA members commit to serve full time in one year up to three years, at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, strengthen community groups, and much more with passion, commitment and hard work, create or expand programs to reach individuals and communities out of poverty.


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