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Strengthening America With The Clean Energy Corps

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Today our nation faces a youth unemployment crisis that unless addressed will have implications for the future of our workforce and the health of our economy.

Unemployment rates for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are the highest they have been in more than 60 years. Last summer, the time of year when youth employment is usually at its highest, just 25 percent of all teens were employed. Less than 20 percent of Latino teens and 15 percent of African‐American teens reported that they had jobs.

While there is no universal, silver-bullet solution to this challenge, I'd like to share some information about The Corps Network's Clean Energy Corps, an AmeriCorps-funded youth development program that is making a difference.

When we envisioned the program several years ago, we thought it would be an excellent way to engage Corpsmembers in work that would lead to credentials and careers, while at the same time saving energy and money for residents in their communities. I'm pleased to report that after nearly two years, the program has proven successful. In fact, a top official recently described one of our program participants, Green City Force, as "National Service at Its Best."

With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service and support from The Corps Network, nine Service and Conservation Corps are operating Clean Energy Corps in cities across the country, including New York, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans, Austin, and Bend, as well as smaller communities like Waukegan, Illinois, Norwich, New York, and Traverse City, Michigan. To date, more than 400 young people have been enrolled in the program, and have participated in activities such as weatherizing and retrofitting homes for low-income families, conducting energy audits, and educating residents about energy efficiency tactics, discounts, and rebates.

In a recent six month period, the Clean Energy Corps weatherized and retrofitted 493 homes, of which 98 percent showed reduced annual energy usage based on pre and post-test data. In this same six month period, 3,510 households were informed about energy and cost-saving strategies and 746 additional community volunteers were mobilized on service projects.

But perhaps the biggest benefit comes to the Corpsmembers themselves. They receive credentials like the Building Performance Institute (BPI) Insulation/Air Sealing Technician certification, which allow them to more competitively pursue careers in the growing green energy industry.

In Charleston, South Carolina where energy costs are high because of the hot, humid climate and inefficient housing, The Sustainability Institute's participation in the Clean Energy Corps has been invaluable for numerous Corpsmembers like Ladine "JR" Daniels. After committing a felony earlier in his life, JR was having a hard time finding meaningful work after leaving prison. Joining the Clean Energy Corps weatherization crew put JR on track to accomplishing his goals. In addition to working hard and gaining a high degree of skill with energy performance equipment, after completing his term of service JR was hired by Carolina Green Energy Systems, a well-established retrofit company. JR is also one step closer to his new dream of opening up his own weatherization business.

The good news is that JR's story is not unique. There are many Corpsmembers like him who are gaining a tremendous leg up while participating in the Clean Energy Corps, and other programs like it. The bad news is that one of the principal means through which these kinds of Corps are funded, AmeriCorps, has been under a sustained threat of having its funding substantially cut or entirely eliminated by Congress. In this time of great need -- when young people are unable to find jobs and communities across the country are unable to meet the basic needs of their residents -- our National Service programs should be expanded and enhanced so that programs like the Clean Energy Corps can grow and serve more young people and communities.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help protect (and expand!) funding for the Clean Energy Corps and other great National Service / AmeriCorps programs, I recommend that you visit www.saveservice.org. It's a great way to strengthen America and our nation's next greatest generation.