Demand for volunteer support is higher than ever. The waiting list for those seeking to serve through AmeriCorps, for example, has more than tripled since the beginning of the Great Recession. Local communities are dealing with the challenges of chronically high unemployment, increasing poverty, and children and families struggling each day to make ends meet, even as the economy slowly recovers. It is with this backdrop that Points of Light seeks to increase, not reduce the effective public-private partnerships we know are needed to equip individuals and organizations to serve.
This is why we are disappointed in several key elements of President Barack Obama’s proposed funding for national and community service. We understand that fiscal constraints mean tough choices, and we were heartened to see the administration maintained current spending levels for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps in the fiscal year 2013 budget request to Congress.
However, Points of Light strongly regrets that the proposed budget includes an elimination of the Volunteer Generation Fund(VGF). The VGF was created by the overwhelmingly bipartisan 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to grow and strengthen community volunteerism in direct response to critical national priorities. It represents the heritage of service that began with President George H. W. Bush and has continued with each ensuing presidency.
For the past two years, while under-resourced as compared to its authorization levels, the Volunteer Generation Fund has seeded an array of innovative and impactful volunteer programs in 19 states:
- In Sioux City, Iowa, the VGF helped create a new volunteer center that mobilized thousands of volunteers to respond to the Missouri River flooding in 2011
- Florida targeted its VGF grant to areas with high poverty rates and engaged more than 7,000 low-income volunteers in 17 counties across the state
- Last spring, tornadoes decimated entire communities near Tuscaloosa, Ala.; the state used its VGF funds to support a 211 volunteer hotline that mobilized more than 60,000 volunteers to assist with disaster recovery
With less than $4 million, the Volunteer Generation Fund has set the stage for a new era of impact volunteering whereby citizen-led strategies, using measureable outcomes, are having a direct impact on the needs of communities. In education, disaster response, nutrition education and an array of locally determined priority areas, volunteers and volunteer-driven interventions are seeing results that matter.
We were also dismayed the president’s budget request did not restore funding for Learn and Serve, the federal government’s 20-year long commitment to service-learning. Service-learning uniquely binds our youth to their place in our civic life by giving them opportunities to serve as they achieve academically. This essential program should be reinstated.
As the largest volunteer network in the country, Points of Light and its network of 250 volunteer activation affiliates across the nation and around the world, will continue to advocate for growth in the Volunteer Generation Fund, for the reinstatement of Learn and Serve and for all public-private alliances that leverage the most cost-efficient and effective volunteer strategies that have proven impact on the nation’s challenges. In this way, we can truly engage the full power and breadth of our nation’s human capital in solving our nation’s problems and lifting up our communities.
To that end, we are pleased to announce the formation of a Volunteer Policy Working Group to build support for the Volunteer Generation Fund and similar federal, state and local policies and programs that enhance community volunteer opportunities and community volunteer impact. If you would like to join these efforts, please contact Julie Murphy, vice president for Government Affairs for Points of Light, at [email protected]
Yours in service,
CEO, Points of Light