Recently, as part of the
$61 billion budget cut package, the House Republicans voted to eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service. This agency would provide $1.4 billion in federal funds to programs across the nation that use dedicated national service participants who volunteer to address and solve some of our most pressing issues.
National service as embodied in the three major programs of CNCS — AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America — engages millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds in addressing issues of poverty, illiteracy, disasters, public safety, independent living and so much more throughout the country.
How does this affect Wyoming? Right now, more than 1,900 people of all ages and backgrounds are helping to meet local needs, strengthen communities, and increase civic engagement through 33 national service projects across the state. These citizens tutor and mentor children, support veterans and military families, provide health services, restore the environment, respond to disasters, and increase economic opportunity. Not only do national service participants increase the capacity of the entities they serve, but they have an even greater impact by recruiting thousands of volunteers to work alongside them every year.
As a governor-appointed state service commission, ServeWyoming is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to tapping the power of citizens to solve problems and strengthen communities on a local level. The best solutions come from outside Washington, and national service invests in our greatest resource — Wyoming people. Through ServeWyoming, and the programs we support, we provide the most efficient and cost-effective delivery system for national service and volunteerism. This is a great deal for taxpayers! Here are just a couple of examples of great Wyoming programs:
AmeriCorps VISTA members at Casper College have built programs over the past two years that have resulted in over 2,400 students involved over 24,000 hours of service to their local, regional, national and global communities. The VISTA, Learn and Serve and ServeWyoming programs are essential to the continued development of programs that will consistently connect learning to civic engagement. According to Gretchen Wheeler, director of the Center for Learning Through Service at Casper College, “cutting these programs will be like cutting the roots out from under the tree. These programs are essential to the promotion of engaged citizenship in higher education which will be crucial as our nation faces the difficult future.”
With the support of AmeriCorps funding, Greater Wyoming Big Brothers Big Sisters provides a comprehensive program designed to promote mentoring opportunities and engage community members to volunteer. In 2010, GWBBBS served 1,151 children across the state of Wyoming. Research shows that a child with a Big Brother or Big Sister is 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to start using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school, and 37 percent less likely to skip class.
The Progressive Youth program run by GWBBBS has served 750 youth since its inception in 2005. The typical recidivism rate for youth on probation reoffending is 70 percent nationwide. At GWBBBS, the recidivism rate is at 17 percent. This is saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in detention and treatment program costs. Of the juvenile justice population served, 98 percent have avoided re-offending, 92 percent have avoided out-of-home placement, and 100 percent are remaining in school or pursuing a GED.
Most of us agree that the federal deficit must be reduced, but at what cost? Eliminating national service programming would deprive Wyomingites of core services provided in an extremely cost-efficient manner — $220 million worth of direct services to Wyoming at a cost to the federal government of just $3.7 million annually. Programs that use national service participants are invaluable partners for our government. They not only leverage federal funds, but often provide services the government can’t. When these budget cuts are finalized, the impact on all our citizens will be felt and nonprofits will be there to pick up the slack.
Some say, “If these Americans are so dedicated to service, won’t they continue to serve?” The spirit of volunteerism will always exist, especially in Wyoming. It’s who we are! However, coupled with the economic struggles we are facing and the job losses these cuts will create, our focus will bend towards our own survival, and not so much on the welfare of our community.
The fact is, national service programs make a powerful impact in Wyoming and get things done for people and communities in need. In addition, national service has a transforming effect on those who serve and volunteer, often putting them on a lifelong path of civic engagement. The recent Serve America Act, which Sen. Mike Enzi helped author, reauthorized the Corporation for National and Community Service and expanded national service. This expansion is helping the nation recover from our recession and these cuts may jeopardize our nation further.