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The Promise of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Alums

June 18, 2015

John GompertsToday’s guest blog comes to us from John Gomperts, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, and a steering committee member of the AmeriCorps Alums Founders Club. Prior to coming to America’s Promise, John served as Director of AmeriCorps from 2010–2012. He also served as Chief of Staff for the Corporation for National & Community Service from 1997–2000. Before directing AmeriCorps, Gomperts served as President of Civic Ventures (now known as Encore.org) and CEO of the nonprofit Experience Corps. Both organizations promoted the engagement of experienced baby boomer volunteers, with Experience Corps focused on recruiting volunteer tutors and mentors that were 55 and up to serve in urban public schools. Prior to joining Civic Ventures and Experience Corps, Gomperts also worked in a variety of governmental and public interest positions and served on numerous boards and advisory groups.  This blog originally appeared on the America’s Promise GradNation blog 

AmeriCorps Alums Graduation Graphic_Bottom croppedThis month thousands of AmeriCorps members will complete their service and “graduate” to becoming AmeriCorps Alums. As this transition takes place, and as people reflect on their time in AmeriCorps and look forward to what comes next, I wanted to share a few hopeful thoughts.

More than 20 years ago, those of us who were lucky enough to work on the creation of AmeriCorps shared a dream that this new national service program would offer young people a great opportunity to serve and learn, and that through their service they would help to create opportunities for others. And we dreamed that over time, those who served in AmeriCorps would become leaders in communities and organizations across the country.

Just a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see how that dream is turning into a reality.

AmeriCorps Alums (the organization) gathered 22 of their National Leadership Award winners and other leading alumni from across the country for the 2015 AmeriCorps Alums National Leadership Forum in New York City. Seeing the potential of former AmeriCorps members to be leading changemakers, the Annie E. Casey and Ford Foundations supported this convening of alums from around the country.

Here are just a few impressions from my conversations with that remarkable group of former AmeriCorps members.

AmeriCorps_Alums_20150514-1

AmeriCorps alumni are outstanding leaders in a variety of settings. There was a White House appointee, a state legislator, an urban farmer, a pediatrician, a nationally-renowned spoken-word poet, a chapter leader, a high-ranking Pentagon official, a leader at one of the world’s most famous high-tech companies, the head of first-year experience at a public university and others serving in the public, non-profit and private sectors. Many serve on nonprofit boards. And they exhibit an instinct for innovation and entrepreneurial responses. While they have shown boldness and creativity in their work, they are also deeply grounded and humble.

T shirt I will carry lineThe alumni who gathered in New York served in a wide range of AmeriCorps programs, but each of them identified their AmeriCorps service as a defining experience in their personal, professional and civic development.

That phrase “and beyond” in the AmeriCorps Pledge is for real. One of my favorite things to do as Director of AmeriCorps was to administer the AmeriCorps pledge. That pledge includes the line, “I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.” I love that line (it is best when shouted in a group of 1,000 newly minted AmeriCorps members!)

The alums I met are making the words “and beyond” a reality. Whatever they do in their work, service and citizenship remain central to their lives.

AmeriCorps alumni are hungry to stay connected to the movement. As exciting as it was just to be in the room with alumni, we were there for a specific purpose: to examine the work of the AmeriCorps Alums organization and help shape the organization’s key goals. Here’s where we ended up: “AmeriCorps Alums aims to double the number of alums in leadership positions that make communities safer, stronger and healthier by 2025.”

Post its and dataThe exact words of that goal statement are still being tweaked, but the goal of making communities safer, stronger and healthier feels right to me, and the alumni in the room were excited to be part of and lead this ongoing endeavor.

And it certainly feels right to me that AmeriCorps Alums (the individuals and the organization) should continue to lead. It reflects one of the great hopes of the founders of AmeriCorps.

Just as we hope and expect those who serve in the military will become leaders of the community, similarly this continued service and leadership is a vital part of the investment in national service. We are already seeing the benefits, and we can see the possibility of an even greater return on the investment in AmeriCorps.

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