Guest blog post by Joshua Dickson, Director, Department of Commerce’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Our country is built on a deeply-held commitment to service and community. From our women and men in uniform to our educators to those who administer important government programs, each day millions of Americans give of themselves to ensure the safety, hope and livelihood of their neighbor. Without a doubt, one of the great things about the United States is the way in which the success of each of us is tied to the success of all of us.
The AmeriCorps national service program, which celebrates its 20th Anniversary today, is a fantastic representation of this. AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 900,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1.2 billion hours in service across America while tackling pressing problems and mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve.
I had the honor to serve with AmeriCorps and it was a transformational experience. As a kindergarten teacher on the South Side of Chicago with Teach For America, I saw firsthand the inequities faced by too many Americans living in low-income communities around the country. My students, 100% of whom were on free or reduced-price lunch, entered school with tremendous eagerness and aptitude. At the same time, they faced the daunting reality that, in Chicago, they have just a 60% chance of graduating from high school. And I saw the way in which the obstacles brought on by poverty can play a role. Whether it was the inability to afford appropriate school supplies, the lack of access to high-quality pre-school or tutoring services, or having to skip meals once the school day commenced, my students faced a litany of challenges simply based on the circumstances they were born into.