Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Service Works: We Just Want to Remind You

Voices for National Service and Service Nation held their annual National Service Capitol Hill Day last week and engaged leaders from throughout the national service field to give voice to the many ways in which service works. A two-day event held in Washington, D.C., National Service Capitol Hill Day is an opportunity for national service alumni, program staff, service partners and corporate sponsors to meet with Congressmen and their staffs in an effort to promote the benefits and necessity of national service.

Thursday morning, day two of National Service Capitol Hill Day, began in the Capitol Hill Visitors Center's Congressional Auditorium and Atrium with a series of talks, or, what guest speaker Paul Winfield, Mayor of Vicksburg MS, referred to as a ‘Pep Rally’ entitled Service Works. Mr. Winfield noted that we need to “get pumped up in order to pump others up.” The Service Works talk did just that, with many influential and inspirational speakers taking the stage throughout the 1.5 hour talk, we were treated to many differing perspectives of the movement for national service.

Congressmen Vern Ehlers spoke on the importance of AmeriCorps, suggesting that we must educate Congress about what we as service providers and organizers require in order to accomplish our work, stressing the importance of soliciting not just money, but also the participation of Members of Congress. Congressman Ehlers also mentioned his retirement from Congress next year, and recounted a conversation with a reporter saying, “I was asked by one reporter, “What are you going to do now? Are you going to become a lobbyist?”” He responded saying, “no, I would never do that,” then thought a minute and said “wait, yes, in fact I will be a lobbyist, but I’m going to do it for free. That’s what volunteer work is.”

Patrick Corvington, the new Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, took the stage and said simply: “We know that service works, we just need to send that message to the rest of the country!” Mr. Corvington spoke passionately saying, “Every American ought to have the right and opportunity to serve their country no matter their age, gender, race, or religion. In doing so, you experience something profound, the powerful feeling of giving yourself to others.”

Representative of North Carolina David Price pointed out an important source of hope in the strong bipartisan history of support for civic service saying, “Washington, D.C., is a polarized place right now, but service is one thing that has not been affected by that polarization.” Mr. Price also mentioned a figure which he was particularly proud of; for every dollar the government spends on national service, the country receives four dollars in return to community benefits and improvements.

Another panelist, Karen Baker, Secretary of Service and Volunteering for the State of California, offered some advice to the eager audience about to embark on a campaign to Congress saying, “They [the Congressmen] need to see your passion in order to believe in your cause. If I have one piece of advice for you, it is to smile!”

Finally, Martin Heinrich, US Representative from New Mexico, pointed out that the important results of national service are not always tangible or measurable; national service builds people of character who go on to do bigger things for their community and continue to be a positive impact on society throughout their lives. However, the panel recognized that, while the immeasurable results of volunteer work are extremely valuable, without hard data it is very difficult to secure funding and support from policy makers in Washington. Therefore, as was mentioned several times throughout the discussion, it is important that we, as national service leaders, analyze and publicize the success of the service work being done throughout the country, and use such data to our advantage when speaking with policy makers in DC—proving to the government and the country that the money spent on national service pays back two, three or even four-fold.

It was inspiring to be in a room so charged up and ready to make a difference. Immediately following the talk, attendees divided into smaller task forces and prepared to meet with Members of Congress to advocate for the necessity of national service to community development throughout the US.

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