“Oregon is pretty special”, according to Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). Oregon Campus Compact was honored to receive a visit from Mrs. Spencer on August 19, 2014 and to share with her many of the reasons we think Oregon is special too.
Oregon Campus Compact has a long-standing relationship with the Corporation for National & Community Service. Since 2009, ORCC has hosted 98 VISTA members, 227 VISTA Summer Associates, 15 minimum time state AmeriCorps Members, and 13 College Access Corps AmeriCorps members. Those AmeriCorps members have mobilized over 16,760 volunteers (serving 8,576 academic priority youth).
The CNCS - funded MLK Mini-grants program funds 13 projects across the Western Region of CNCS to promote the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Several of ORCC’s current AmeriCorps members and community partners came to meet Wendy Spencer and share with her their experiences as National Service members.
Current VISTA members Andriana Alexis, Heidi Whitehouse and Allisha Tull spoke about the programs they worked with this past year and how important service-learning has been in their lives. Courtney Nolta and Sean Hagen, two ORCC Summer VISTAs currently serving in Central Oregon joined the meeting via video call. Kara Carmosino, Community Engagement Coordinator at All Hands Raised described how the partnership between ORCC and 9th Grade Counts has contributed to the ongoing success of the program.
Spencer was excited to share a new grant opportunity soon to be offered by CNSC. Operation AmeriCorps would have CNCS “partner with governments of U.S. cities, counties, or towns; federally-recognized Tribes; Territories, and school boards to engage AmeriCorps members as the transformative catalyst to address a pressing problem. Leaders (a tribal leader, mayor, county executive, or other chief executive of a locality) will propose a transformational project that uses a national service solution to ensure that every high school senior has a career or educational opportunity upon high school graduation. The goal is for every graduating high school senior to pursue one of the following five options following high school graduation:
1. Higher education, including two or four-year institutions of higher education
2. Military service
3. National service in AmeriCorps
5. A paid internship, registered apprenticeship, or job training program.”
So what are Wendy Spencer’s goals for CNCS and what is her opinion on the future of national service?
According to Spencer, national service is an integral part of addressing injustice and inequity in this country. “We should be asking community leaders and elected officials to consider putting civic engagement into the mix when looking at solutions [to the issues that most deeply impact their communities].”
One thing she views as a struggle for AmeriCorps members and and leaders across the country is limited understanding of the scope of the program. “Elected officials aren’t connecting Campus Compact, Boys & Girls Club, Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, etc with AmeriCorps.” They certainly recognize the names and impacts of their local non-profits, schools, and government institutions, but they usually don’t realize the extent to which those agencies are deeply involved with AmeriCorps.
Her solution? Make sure the AmeriCorps logo is everywhere. Have conversations with elected officials and show them how many of their community organizations are invested in AmeriCorps and national service. “When they’re voting on national service legislation, they need to understand just how many individuals and groups are affected by that outcome.”
Spencer is invested in collecting stories that show the impact of national and community service to share with elected officials and community leaders.
Says Spencer: “We know that participating in National Service is a great resume builder and helps people get jobs. The next question to explore is: To what degree is National Service creating jobs? How often do host sites actually create a brand new job description in order to hire an AmeriCorps member after their term of service? How often do members gain enough skills to create their own organizations, departments or programs?”
At ORCC, we can think of several examples right away that we’ve learned from some of our member campuses. Concordia University’s Servant Leadership Department was created by AmeriCorps members. An AmeriCorps VISTA member at Warner Pacific College founded their Service-Learning Program, and the current Warner Pacific President credits that VISTA member with helping to change the perception of Warner Pacific in the community.
We are sure there are many other examples and we want to hear them from you! Do you have stories about how AmeriCorps and national service have created jobs in your community? Share them with us, and we’ll pass them on to Wendy Spencer at CNCS.