09/20/2013 10:21 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

AmeriCorps Alums: The Return on Your Investment

Since the founding of AmeriCorps 20 years ago, 800,000 Americans have contributed 1 billion hours of service at 15,000 community-based organizations. And, after 20 years of testing, we know the AmeriCorps experiment worked. Our communities are stronger because of it. During their term of service, AmeriCorps members address our nation's biggest challenges - helping to turnaround our toughest schools, supporting our veterans transitioning home, and providing critical emergency response supports after natural disasters.

But the legacy of AmeriCorps extends beyond a single year of service or a single member. The legacy lives on in the more than 800,000 AmeriCorps Alums who continue to tackle national problems as leaders, from classrooms to boardrooms - and even in the halls of Congress. Our shared investment in AmeriCorps includes $500MM in private funding and in-kind contributions each year, which have been leveraged to support AmeriCorps' impact, and an additional $2.4 billion in Eli Segal education scholarship awards to defray the costs of higher education for those who served. This investment in AmeriCorps and its members is a down payment on a pipeline of leadership in the nonprofit, public, and social sectors -- as evidenced through the successes of AmeriCorps Alums.

Investment in this leadership pipeline is critical, as leadership gaps exist in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. At a White House Convening on nonprofit leadership, the President's then Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes said, "because we have historically undervalued and underinvested in nonprofit talent and leadership, these areas represent some of the greatest untapped potential for increasing the capacity of the sector. We can only succeed by ensuring that we have the right leaders in the right roles, and that those individuals are properly trained, managed, and supported." Similarly, a recent Atlantic Monthly article, "The Outsiders: How Can Millennials Change Washington If They Hate It?" showed that just 6 percent of college students plan to work for public sector institutions, and only 2.3 percent want to work at the federal level - which will not fill the gap produced by retiring Baby Boomers.

AmeriCorps alums - who have demonstrated dedication and learned key skills - are poised to fill these leadership gaps - and many already are in these positions.

For example, before Dhriti Pandaya was leading local fundraising for a national nonprofit, she was an AmeriCorps member at the Volunteer Center of North Texas, where she managed volunteers, worked with young-people and initiated the Volunteer Center's first STEM-based service-learning program. There, Dhriti's passion for youth engagement was ignited, and her skills grew. As a result of this experience, Dhriti is now a Senior Development Manager with Junior Achievement in Dallas, where talented corporate and community volunteers advance work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy for over 40,000 students in K-12 classrooms. Dhriti was made in AmeriCorps - and the legacy of our investment in her endures first, at the Volunteer Center where she served, and then through Dhriti's efforts to scale her organization's impact and reach more students in the Dallas area.

Likewise, before Shawnice Jackson was named to the National Council of Young Leaders, she was an AmeriCorps member with Maryland Public Allies program building volunteer recruitment capacity for Big Brothers Big Sister of the Greater Chesapeake. As a result of this apprenticeship within a local organization and building her outreach and community engagement skills, Shawnice, born and raised in Baltimore City, beat the odds. Unlike the majority of her peers, she graduated from high school and is on track to graduate college this May. Shawnice is a leader and advocate on two national councils that advise policy makers and funders on issues affecting low-income youth and their communities. Shawnice was made in AmeriCorps - and the legacy of our investment in her endures first though her service with Public Allies, and then through her own ongoing work improving policies and programs that support opportunity youth.

Dhriti, Shawnice, and thousands of other alums are continuing to strengthen our communities and our country. The legacy of their service endures - in the communities they serve, and in their own careers as principals in our nation's toughest schools, experts in green energy, and leaders across the social sector. So, in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the legislation that created AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps Alums (the nonprofit national alumni organization dedicated to serving this alumni community) is launching a "Return on Investment" campaign." This campaign will celebrate the legacy of AmeriCorps, as demonstrated through alumni whose experience in AmeriCorps significantly shaped their professional trajectory and continues to make a stronger and more vibrant America. Please share your story with me at and register at to follow along and join us in celebrating!

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute to recognize the power of national service, in conjunction with the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the AmeriCorps legislation on September 20th. The Franklin Project is a policy program at the Aspen Institute working to create a 21st century national service system that challenges all young people to give at least one year of full-time service to their country. To see all the posts in this series, click here. To learn more about the Franklin Project, click here.