Service with a capital "C"
Last week about 250 people gathered in the ballroom at Portland State University to share stories and experiences. At first glance, you might think them an odd assembly – some were perfectly coiffed, some had long, unruly hair…others had little hair left. They wore shorts, jeans, skirts and suits. Their ages ranged from 18 to 70. They told stories they made people laugh, and others that brought the audience to the verge of tears…but they all spoke of idealism and dreams. They all spoke with the passion and conviction of converts, giving testimony to the idea that one person can make a difference.
Who are these people so diverse in style and yet so united in purpose? They are AmeriCorps members.
AmeriCorps is a national service program that engages more than 75,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, homeland security, and other areas. In exchange for their year of service, AmeriCorps members earn an education award that can be used to pay for college or to pay back qualified student loans.
Here in Oregon, AmeriCorps members are serving in 30 counties. This year, 835 full and part-time AmeriCorps members of all ages and backgrounds are serving communities across the state through local nonprofits, schools, faith-based organizations and other groups. They are tutoring children, coordinating volunteer programs, providing methamphetamine education, creating and instituting after-school programs, assisting high school students in accessing post-secondary education opportunities, conducting disaster preparedness education, removing non-native species, performing trail and stream bank restorations and meeting a variety of other health, human service, and community-identified needs.
If you watch them as they serve, what you see is action. In classrooms they move from student to student, giving each the time and attention they need, want, and deserve.
In the field they move from project to project – whether it’s building a fish ladder or removing an invasive species – with fierce determination.
In offices they switch between making phone calls to follow up with volunteers to writing grants that will help their organization or program continue their work.
But for all of their movement and agility no matter what the task is, AmeriCorps members know that it is not motion, but emotion, that drives the work of change. They know that changing the world doesn't always require money, or fame, or political power; that sometimes a heartfelt personal gesture – a high-five with a student, a phone call to say thank you to a volunteer – is all it takes to create a ripple of change that continues to move out among others.
AmeriCorps members vary in their backgrounds, ages, and skills, but they all believe that sharing their time, their resources, and their energy to help others, to “Get Things Done for America”, is important. And it is.
This week is AmeriCorps Week, a time to salute AmeriCorps members and alums for their powerful impact here in Oregon. Please take a moment to look around your community and see how AmeriCorps members are serving, and take a moment to thank them.