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Michelle Nunn

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A New Era Of Impact Volunteering

Posted: 03/19/2012 11:31 am

It is not often that presidents share a legacy. More typically, the history books and the leaders themselves prefer a unique stamp, a signature achievement that defines their tenure in the highest office.

Multiple presidents, however, can lay claim to the fabric that is comprised by the array of service and volunteering programs that have indelibly marked the social progress that comes from compassion in action. From Lyndon Johnson and the creation of Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) and the Foster Grandparents Program to George H. W. Bush and Points of Light to Bill Clinton and AmeriCorps.

Yet, the importance of this shared legacy is not simply of historical note. These complementary programs provided multiple points of entry and had a multiplier impact on the nation's social ills. It meant that the two great streams of service -- community volunteering and full-time national service -- were fully partners in health clinics, homeless shelters, schools, disaster zones and national parks. Whether you could give a year or an afternoon, the service programs in this country welcomed you.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009, fully recognized and supported both streams of service. However, the Act's funding, designed to bolster community volunteerism, has been threatened with elimination in the administration's 2013 budget. Its demise would erode the community volunteering infrastructure that is critical to effective service and would jeopardize the growth of this companion to full-time, stipended national service.

Known as the Volunteer Generation Fund, in just two years, it has seeded an array of innovative and impactful volunteer programs in 19 states:

• In Sioux City, Iowa, the VGF helped create a new volunteer center that mobilized thousands of volunteers to respond to the Missouri River flooding in 2011
• Florida targeted its VGF grant to areas with high poverty rates and engaged more than 7,000 low-income volunteers in 17 counties across the state
• Last spring, tornadoes decimated entire communities near Tuscaloosa, Ala.; the state used its VGF funds to support a 211 volunteer hotline that mobilized more than 60,000 volunteers to assist with disaster recovery

With less than $4 million, the Volunteer Generation Fund has set the stage for a new era of impact volunteering whereby citizen-led strategies, using measurable outcomes, are having a direct effect on the needs of communities. In education, disaster response and an array of locally determined priority areas, volunteers and volunteer-driven interventions are seeing results that matter.

The call to service from Ted Kennedy's Learn and Serve to George W. Bush's Citizen Corps were founded on the leveraging of the most cost-efficient and effective volunteer strategies with proven impact on the nation's challenges. The Volunteer Generation Fund fits squarely in this historical call to service.

As tough budget decisions are made this year, Congress should hone in on proven government initiatives that truly engage everyday citizens in community solutions. The Volunteer Generation is such an initiative and should be funded robustly. In this way, we can truly engage the full power and breadth of our nation's human capital in solving our nation's problems, lifting up our communities and heralding a uniquely, bi-partisan Presidential legacy.

As President Obama said in a speech at the University of Colorado in July 2008, "That's the bet our Founding Fathers were making all of those years ago - that our individual destinies could be tied together in the common destiny of democracy; that government depends not just on the consent of the governed, but on the service of citizens. That's what history calls us to do. Because loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, and our country will be stronger."

 

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