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Our St. Louis Alums Advocate for Service!

April 4, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from Joe Jovanovich, President of the St. Louis Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums. He served two terms as an AmeriCorps member with City Year in Chicago, IL. He currently works as a project manager with Beyond Housing, a St. Louis community development non-profit. 

On Saturday, March 10th, the St. Louis Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums kicked off National AmeriCorps Week in a different way, by bringing together representatives from over a dozen local AmeriCorps agencies together with AmeriCorps Alums. This “AmeriCorps Summit” was made possible through the generous support of our regional Hands On Network Affiliate, the United Way of Greater St. Louis, who hosted the event.

No, we did not paint a single mural, clean a single street, or even plant a single tree. Most often when AmeriCorps folks come together, it’s to perform physical service, which is absolutely essential, as it can give you visibly powerful, immediately tangible results that benefit a community in a clear way. Our local chapter of AmeriCorps Alums will always be passionate for physical service, but that is not how we kicked off National AmeriCorps Week. Instead, we hosted the 2nd Annual St. Louis AmeriCorps Summit to bring together local AmeriCorps stakeholders for a different, though just as important, kind of service: Advocacy.

Advocating for AmeriCorps may not feel like “service,” but just like physical service, it can yield huge results that are worth the wait. Like planting a flower bulb is a great springtime service project, it makes great sense for a service project to plant the seeds for building support for AmeriCorps. If the advocacy efforts of one person help to keep the lights on at one AmeriCorps agency, then that one advocate is also indirectly responsible for all the great work carried out by each of that agency’s AmeriCorps members.

In that way, advocacy has a multiplying effect – you may just have to wait a few weeks, months, or years to see the impact!

Joe introducing the panelists.

The St. Louis AmeriCorps Summit engaged over 60 AmeriCorps supporters to discuss how “AmeriCorps Works.” We heard from a panel four young community leaders who have experience working closely with AmeriCorps: a coordinator of a regional network of AmeriCorps VISTA placements, a disaster relief manager, a Teach for America alumni director, and an assistant to Mayor Francis Slay of the City of St. Louis.

The panel focused their discussion on how AmeriCorps Works to delivery critical services to the community, develop a new generation of leaders, and provide a strong return on investment. Afterwards, we broke into small group discussions so that each attendee could give their personal testimonial on how  AmeriCorps Works across those areas. The purpose of sharing this information was to equip AmeriCorps stakeholders with the knowledge and perspective needed to be strong advocates.

When we can not only tell our own AmeriCorps story, but also the amazing work AmeriCorps continues to do nationally , we are better able to inform our friends, neighbors, and our elected officials. Ultimately, our goal is to provide the tools and inspiration to mobilize AmeriCorps stakeholders to carry out individual advocacy that increases public awareness and support for AmeriCorps. In this tough budgetary climate, when all cuts are on the table, having passionate and informed advocates for AmeriCorps is crucial to ensure its existence. The St. Louis AmeriCorps Summit did not directly engage many people who didn’t already know about AmeriCorps, as most folks in the room were involved with AmeriCorps in some capacity already. However, that doesn’t mean everyone was already an expert in the full range of ways AmeriCorps Works.

Most people involved in AmeriCorps become so laser-focused on their service that they may often not have time to see the “bigger picture”. When you look at AmeriCorps as a whole, and see it as a national movement, it is truly inspiring. For example, we learned through planning the Summit that there are over 30 agencies in St. Louis that host AmeriCorps members, which is far more than any of us realized. These agencies are doing important work across a diverse array of issues. Many people at the Summit also shared in our realization, saying “Oh, I didn’t realize you were an AmeriCorps agency.”

If fellow AmeriCorps stakeholders don’t realize the full scope of AmeriCorps, then certainly, neither does the general public. The first step in building an effective advocacy campaign for AmeriCorps is to inform and energize those who may already be AmeriCorps’ biggest fans. Once they have the facts and perspective, they can go forth and be better able to engage their neighbors and colleagues. The second step, and the much harder one, is to sustain that advocacy momentum. It is difficult to continually mobilize those AmeriCorps stakeholders to keep up their advocacy. At the end of the AmeriCorps Summit, we asked each participant to right down their pledge on how they will help advocate to show how AmeriCorps Works, with the hopes that each person will follow-through on and sustain their actions. To help ensure that happens, groups like AmeriCorps Alums need to continue to support these individuals with information, inspiration  and advocacy projects with clear objectives. In the aftermath of the St. Louis AmeriCorps Summit, the next step of our AmeriCorps Alums chapter is figuring our next steps along these lines.

AmeriCorps Alums St. Louis chapter

This year’s National AmeriCorps Week was a great experience, and we look forward to next year, when we hopefully can continue our tradition of hosting the St. Louis AmeriCorps Summit. During the time between now and then, our Alums chapter will do what we can to continue advocating for AmeriCorps.

If all AmeriCorps Alums across the country do the same, I am confident that AmeriCorps will continue to earn the public confidence and investment it so greatly deserves.

Keep up with our St. Louis AmeriCorps Alums on Facebook and Twitter.

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