Gordon Rooney’s extensive volunteer work in his home state of South Carolina illustrates a profound commitment to public service. His dedication as an unpaid leader and policy influencer is pivotal in shaping the landscape of volunteerism and national service programs across the state.
As a member of the South Carolina Commission on National and Community Service, Gordon plays a critical role in identifying the state’s key challenges and addressing them through strategic volunteerism. His involvement in the commission’s Grant Review Committee is particularly impactful. Here, he helps award AmeriCorps funded grants to nonprofit organizations that tackle South Carolina’s pressing issues. The grants, totaling approximately $4 million for the current fiscal year, support 17 nonprofit organizations, showcasing the significant influence of the committee’s work.
“My fellow commissioners and I work together to identify critical needs of the state, with an eye toward improving the quality of life for South Carolinians,” shared Gordon. This includes helping to ensure the well-being and strategic placement of AmeriCorps members serving throughout the state.”
Gordon’s leadership extends to serving as co-chair of the Public Policy Committee, where he spearheads the Commission’s policy priorities and engages with state stakeholders. This role includes recommending policy positions for the Commission, meeting with state legislators and attending the annual Public Policy Day at the State House in Columbia. His participation in the Grant Review Committee further demonstrates his commitment to ensuring that funding is directed toward initiatives that provide tangible solutions to the state’s challenges.
“With some of the country’s most renowned beaches, historic sites and restaurants, a thriving arts scene and endless outdoor opportunities, paired with southern hospitality, we have a lot to be thankful for in South Carolina,” Gordon said. “Though just like in communities across the country, South Carolina experiences its own set of challenges – in supporting veterans, conservation efforts, expanding broadband to rural areas, healthcare access and more. Providing service opportunities is one cost-effective way to tackle these challenges.”
From a young age, Gordon has been encouraged to get involved and help better the communities he finds himself part of. “Many of my morals, values and motivations are a direct result of my upbringing,” he shared. “So, while I might be naturally inclined to seek out volunteer opportunities, my message is that anyone can serve. As I’ve heard my dad say, ‘If not you, then who?’ Citizenship is more than paying taxes and voting. It’s about looking after your neighbor and finding ways to better your community.”
Looking ahead to 2024, Gordon is leading the drafting of a new State Service Plan for South Carolina. This crucial document will highlight current challenges and propose steps to address them, guiding funding and programmatic priorities for national service programs in the state. Gordon’s expertise and understanding of the value of service are integral to developing a plan that will effectively address South Carolina’s needs.
Gordon’s volunteerism is rooted in a deep-seated commitment to serving others. As an alum of City Year AmeriCorps, he understands firsthand the impact of service on both the individual and the community. His work with the Commission is a continuation of his dedication to public service, demonstrating his belief in the power of volunteerism to enact positive change.
“From my own service year experience, I understand and appreciate the value of service,” Gordon reflected. “Over a decade ago, during my service year with City Year, I served side by side with other young people from all backgrounds and from all over the country. I completed my service year with an appreciation for the challenges that many of my fellow Americans face every day. My service year ignited my belief that every child deserves a quality education and a healthy home environment. Those serving with AmeriCorps and other programs complete their service with hard skills that’ll help them in the job market, they become more aware of the challenges facing their community and they share a common experience with others they serve with – an experience that stays with them for the rest of their lives.”
Gordon believes that we have a responsibility to get civically engaged, even advocating for a service year for all Americans. “I don’t think it’s a secret that our country finds itself in a state of political polarization, paralyzing proper discourse at dinner tables across America,” Gordon said. “President Lincoln’s words are nearly as relevant today as they were in his time, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ How can the U.S. promote our values abroad if we’re not leading by example?”
He continued, “The root causes for our political divisions are many. While there is no one panacea, my experiences as a volunteer gives me confidence as to what a piece of the puzzle looks like. We should provide more service year opportunities for Americans, especially for young people graduating from high school and college. Whether it’s through the military, AmeriCorps or Habitat for Humanity, those serving will share a common experience with their fellow volunteers, corps members, or service members; and it’s more than likely that those serving together will come from different walks of life.”
Gordon encourages those who want to volunteer to jump in with cause areas they’re passionate about. “Be a participant, versus a spectator,” he advised. “Get involved in your community. Think about issues that matter to you. Do you care about parks revitalization efforts? What about supporting underserved populations through the arts? Or how about taking some time each week to walk dogs at your local animal shelter? The odds are that there’s an organization in need of your support, whether part-time or full-time. Give them a call and ask about potential opportunities or visit their website for more information.”
Gordon’s work with the South Carolina Commission on National & Community Service is a testament to the impact that committed volunteers can have on their communities and states. His leadership in policy development, grant review and strategic planning is not only enhancing the effectiveness of volunteer programs across South Carolina but also inspiring others to engage in service. Gordon’s dedication to identifying and addressing the critical needs of his state sets a powerful example of how volunteer leadership can drive significant societal improvement.
“We tend to care more about something if we know its value and if we’ve been tasked with taking care of it,” Gordon shared. “If we don’t care about something, we just might lose it. The freedoms we enjoy and the institutions we take for granted are the work of those who went before us; and it’s up to every American to do his or her part. We owe that to our forebears. We owe that to ourselves.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Gordon? Find local volunteer opportunities.