The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America

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Frequent visitors to other national service sites like NationalService.

African American Life in Washington, DC, Before Emancipation

LEARN includes links to resources designed to help you with the day-to-day aspects of your job such as grant management, member management, and service-related activities. CONNECT includes social media and other tools, including a wiki to help you collaborate with your staff, partners, and other stakeholders.

The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America

Use it to create and edit shared documents or other project communications. AmeriCorps State and National members are typically limited in the amount of fund raising they are allowed to do during hours they count towards their hours. We have been asked whether it is permissible for national service programs to participate in fundraising and other community outreach efforts in support of Haiti earthquake relief.

Within certain limits to be discussed with Corporation program officers, it is generally permissible for national service participants to support this activity as supplemental to the core program activity. We are putting together more detailed answers to frequently-asked questions for programs considering ways to contribute to the relief effort, to be posted and updated as needed.

Please forward any questions you have to your program officer so that we can provide specific guidance. In addition to increasing member positions, the bill funds the first-ever increase in the dollar amount of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award members earn in return for their service. So much so that Sagawa made it her career goal to become a policymaker who could make things better, especially for poor children. Then, as an idealistic young lawyer, she returned to DC eager to put her talents—and sense of justice—to good use.

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As staff counsel to Senate committees working on social issues, she dove into the minutiae of family leave, health care, and education policy, with her most significant accomplishment being the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the first comprehensive child-care legislation ever enacted. Despite these early successes, Sagawa quickly discovered that changing the world, even a little bit at a time, was going to take more than youthful optimism.

The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America

The partisan bickering so common to politics can be discouraging, but, thankfully, Sagawa remembered a valuable lesson she picked up from Senator Kennedy. One problem that she believed needed immediate fixing was the hostile environment faced by mothers of young children who were entering the full-time workforce in record numbers yet encountered expensive child care, few provisions for family leave to care for sick children, and a generally unforgiving attitude from employers.

Turns out, her own experience fueled her desire to make things easier for other women. She had expected to stay at home for a few months to care for newborn Jack and take her time researching child-care options for when she did return to work. But then she got an unexpected call. There is a logic to this outcome: many of those interested in AmeriCorps are interested precisely because they already have a strong commitment to service, and for those who join, AmeriCorps allows them to express that commitment without altering it.

Still, for a program that had hoped to boost lifelong volunteering by its members overall, including those with a background in service, this is a disappointing result. Another important goal is to increase members willingness and ability to work across lines of difference.

To help accomplish this, local projects are required to actively seek participants from diverse backgrounds, to create service environments that include a mix of races and classes. Earlier research showed that more than two-thirds of sites with at least ten members were moderately to highly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, creating the potential for cross-cultural learning.

Further, even relatively homogenous AmeriCorps groups often work in demographically different communities, providing similar opportunities. The Frumkin and Jastrzab study came at this issue from several angles: they gauged whether members gain an increased appreciation for diversity; whether they are more likely to participate in groups characterized by openness, consideration, and tolerance; and whether they are more likely to behave in ways that encourage these traits when they are in groups.

The results here are disappointing, with members scoring no differently than similar nonmembers with one exception: in the short term, AmeriCorps participation actually led NCCC members to have lower levels of diversity appreciation. Although less diverse than the State and National program, as a residential, team-based program NCCC was expected to foster especially high levels of group cohesion; instead the programs intense environment may have temporarily increased interpersonal conflict.

Given the importance of these elements and the unexpected study results, AmeriCorpss advocates need to take these findings seriously. But just because AmeriCorps doesnt appear to increase civic responsibility or strengthen communities in the ways it most expected or originally intended to doesnt mean it cant, or that it doesnt accomplish these things by other means.

Indeed, it does so.

Shirley Sagawa - Public Welfare

For example, AmeriCorps members show an increased connection to community, as measured by their feelings of community attachment, thinking about how larger political issues affect their community, and awareness of how to meet community needs. They show increased levels of efficacy, the belief that they can identify and act on local problems and make a difference in their community. Finally, they show an increased willingness to try to make a difference and increased levels of community involvement, through attendance at local meetings and other community activities and events.

AmeriCorps also hopes to expand opportunity for its members, both by imparting work skills during service and making college more affordable afterward. Of the two, the education award has received far greater attention. It certainly may be justified simply as a reward for service, but it is also important to know whether it is serving its larger educational purpose. To what extent is it helping members pay for college and further their education?

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On the positive side, a large proportion of membersmore than three out of fourmake use of their awards. On the negative side, it turns out that members are no more likely to have completed college courses in the short term or earned a degree in the longer term. Given other sources of aid available to anyone, the award was not enough to give members an educational advantage.

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  7. That said, AmeriCorps members do gain a skill advantage that may result in any number of positive work outcomes. The Frumkin and Jastrzab study measured members self-assessment on a wide range of basic work skills, including problem solving, collecting and analyzing information, listening to and learning from others, resolving conflicts, leading teams, managing time and meeting deadlines, adapting to changing circumstances, and working under difficult conditions.

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    While similar nonmembers identified no overall change in these skills during the study period, both State and National members and NCCC members did: after their AmeriCorps experience they rated their skills significantly higher overall than they had at the start of their service. These two books, then, provide scant fodder for those looking to argue against further funding of AmeriCorps, and plenty of evidence for advocates to make the case that the program is achieving its goals. Both books also offer recommendations for how the program can be improved.

    Whether one emphasizes getting things done or member development, Frumkin and Jastrzabs call for more careful matching of members skills and interests with their service assignments makes sense. Given AmeriCorpss placement model, the challenge is how exactly to do this. Other suggestions raise the question of trade-offs. From a member development perspective, it makes sense to target recruitment efforts to those without service experience, since they gain the most from being in AmeriCorps in several key areas.