When I started my term as an AmeriCorps VISTA last August, I never anticipated that my year of service would overlap with such political drama. In February, the House passed H.R. 1 which called for massive spending cuts including the elimination of the Corporation for National & Community Service – the agency that runs AmeriCorps. Also, as many of you know, the media has been buzzing about a government shutdown all week. This makes me nervous for many reasons, but mostly because a government shutdown would mean that my (already modest) living stipend would be frozen…
Before I go any further, I want to make something thing very clear about this blog post. This is not a rant, opinion piece or a ‘call to arms’. In fact, it’s not allowed to be any of those things. As an Americorps VISTA I am bound by the Hatch Act and am not allowed to participate in certain partisan activities or campaigning under my title – including publicly agreeing with or publicly opposing the matter outlined above. I know, I know…the whole thing is rather ironic (especially since my program is on the chopping block), but generally I see the value of this legal restraint. After all, as a national volunteer I work for all tax payers no matter who you voted for or what you believe. It’s my job to serve you, not alienate you. I’m on board with that.
One thing I CAN do is explain the volunteers’ collective silence. Because of the conditions explained above, you won’t (or at least shouldn’t) see any opinionated blog posts by a current AmeriCorps member or read a quote from them in the paper about these topics. If this had been happening a year ago while I was still in undergrad, I might have stumbled across a related newspaper article and wondered why no one was asking the volunteers directly what they thought about their jeopardized position. After all, in cases like this – whether it’s with teachers’ salaries or local programs – one can generally expect a defensive quote from the threatened demographic. For better or for worse, this expectation does not apply here. While AmeriCorps alumni can participate in politics and publicly rally on this issue, those presently impacted are waiting and watching as the drama over our futures and our program unfolds. Like I said, I see the benefits of this political restraint, but that doesn’t make silence any easier.
Though I can’t tell you explicitly what I think, I CAN tell you more about myself and what I do. Also, if you’re interested, feel free to read my first “Volunteer” post I wrote for this site. I’ll let you formulate your own opinion based on your fiscal leanings and political beliefs.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA (VISTA = Volunteer in Service to America), I am a capacity-building force. This means I do more indirect service than direct, hands-on volunteering (though we all still find time to do that as well). This past year I’ve been stationed with a non-profit in North Carolina where I help with formulating sustainable funding strategies for our local projects nationwide. Most VISTAs work behind the scenes and, in fact, raise money (as in millions – we’re not kidding around), create partnerships and recruit/engage local volunteers. Our work is about stability and sustainability meaning we don’t just move to a random place and serve until the clock runs out. The goal isn’t just to own or start a successful project; it’s to create ripple effects in the community that outlive your presence there.
I know some people are shocked that the government would even think about cutting a program like AmeriCorps. I also know other people who, considering the dire economic climate, see cutting AmeriCorps has an unfortunate but needed reality. Whatever your opinion might be, don’t be afraid to vocalize it. Do it for those of us that can’t.
“Volunteer” is my day-to-day identity. It’s how I introduce myself to strangers when I shake their hands and it’s the label I wear proudly on my chest here in North Carolina. From time to time I might write about more frivolous labels on this blog, but I take this one very seriously and my hope is that you do too.