09/20/2013 05:51 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

AmeriCorps: Capturing a Renewable Resource for Good

Is it possible to effectively harness youthful enthusiasm and idealism and turn it into it a renewable resource for good? We think so. Twenty years ago, President Clinton signed a bill that created AmeriCorps and gave our country a new outlet for national service that did just that.

From its modest beginnings, AmeriCorps has grown to annually engage nearly 80,000 Americans who dedicate a year of their lives to serving in communities large, small and everything in between. And this is meaningful service that helps solve some of the most difficult challenges our nation faces.

Giving young people an option to serve their country through community service was not a new idea in 1993 -- we can trace the roots of this type of national service back to the Civilian Conservation Corps, Peace Corps and VISTA. However, by providing the support system to make this an ongoing option, AmeriCorps helped to get tens of thousands serving in ways that exceeded our wildest dreams.

During the last 20 years, over 820,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1 billion hours of service. And they don't do it alone -- their leadership helped manage and motivate more than 4 million others in 2012 to get involved in their own communities.

AmeriCorps members and programs have made an indelible mark on our nation in the name of service.

Our members support education by teaching, tutoring and mentoring through programs that include City Year, Teach for America and College Possible. AmeriCorps NCCC members respond to disasters and fires, and work to preserve our environment. AmeriCorps VISTAs call on their long history to help change lives through programs that build economic opportunity and improve nutrition and food security.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Whether they are working with veterans and military families, expanding resources to improve the health access in underserved neighborhoods, providing free tax preparation or serving at one of the 15,000 groups we support, AmeriCorps is getting things done for our nation.

And as we carry out the Presidential directive that created the Task Force on Expanding National Service, you will hear more about our members collaborating with other federal agencies through efforts such as FEMA Corps, the School Turnaround AmeriCorps and STEM AmeriCorps.

While we celebrate AmeriCorps' 20th anniversary during the next year, CNCS will highlight the programs and work AmeriCorps members are doing to make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans. But I am also pleased to report that one of the greatest things about of AmeriCorps is that our members often discover as much about themselves as they do about the places they serve.

When they're done with their service, many will go on to become civic and community leaders due to the values they learned through AmeriCorps. It's not hyperbole to say that national service becomes a life-changing experience for many, many of our AmeriCorps alumni.

In exchange for their commitment to AmeriCorps, our members who complete a term of service are eligible to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that can be used to pay for college or pursue graduate studies. Thus far, AmeriCorps alumni have earned more than $2.4 billion to defray the costs of their college studies that have increased economic opportunity for these young people and their families.

We're capturing the energy of generations who have been introduced to service as something they can make a part of their everyday lives. Whether they lead a neighborhood watch, teach in a local school, embark on a nonprofit career, or run for office, our AmeriCorps repay our investment in them many times over. And they are a renewable resource we can be proud of.

Wendy Spencer is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and other service programs. Spencer will co-chair the National Service Task Force along with Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.