Why Serving A Year Is A Big Deal: A Guest Post by Our Partners at ServiceNation

By LIFT on April 24, 2014

Categories: Our Work

Tim Smith, Director of Online Engagement, ServiceNation

Lawrence had just been released from prison when he met Ben — an AmeriCorps member serving with LIFT. Ben helped him craft a new resume, apply for jobs, and enroll in a GED class. They had made great progress, but as they parted ways, Ben explained that “the best part of our meeting was him saying that he’d be back the following week because he believed that he could rely on the volunteers at LIFT to help him put his life back on track.”

The late Senator Ted Kennedy heard thousands of stories like these, too. He knew that AmeriCorps has the power to change lives and change communities. It’s what inspired him to champion national service until the very end. And it’s the reason that the legislation that he and Senator Orrin Hatch co-authored to expand national service bears his name.

Five years ago this week — on April 21, 2009 — the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act was signed into law by Barack Obama in the first 100 days of his presidency. The bill received strong bipartisan support in Congress, and passed the Senate with 79 affirmative votes. But since that time, Congress and the White House have struggled to deliver fully on this vision. This year, fewer than 80,000 national service members are serving through AmeriCorps – that’s 120,000 positions short of the goal set in the Serve America Act for this year.

Imagine what could be different if 200,000 Americans spent next year serving their communities? Imagine if one million served? National service programs have been fighting poverty for 50 years. President Johnson knew that in order to wage his “War on Poverty” he needed citizens to serve their communities, so he launched VISTA — which later became AmeriCorps VISTA. Since that time, AmeriCorps members like Ben have carried that legacy, continuing to fight poverty and to help people achieve economic stability and well-being.

This is why we are so proud to partner with LIFT on the Serve A Year campaign — an initiative led by ServiceNation with 18 of the nation’s leading service organizations with a goal to make a year of national service part of the American way of life. To accomplish this, we will connect stories like Ben’s to storytellers in Hollywood and beyond so that a service year no longer becomes a niche idea, but a common opportunity for all Americans.

Through this campaign, we’ve been able to hear amazing stories of AmeriCorps members fighting poverty, rebuilding after disasters, empowering veterans — stories that speak to our spirit as a country. A spirit that Senator Kennedy knew, a spirit that AmeriCorps members like Ben know, and soon — with the help of LIFT and the Serve A Year campaign — millions of Americans will know. Then, maybe we can get Washington to catch up with the rest of the country.

To hear more about the Serve A Year Campaign, check out our website here. If you’re looking to do something right now —take the Pledge to lift people out of poverty for good.