After Oso: the passion for public service will continue

In the aftermath of the tragic Oso mudslide, it was hard for anyone not to be overwhelmed by the heart-breaking stories and images of devastation.

But, time and again, even in our nation’s toughest moments, Americans have come together to extend a helping hand to those in need. It’s in that spirit that members from the Washington Conservation Corps, along with Washington Service Corps – both AmeriCorps programs – and other service-oriented groups worked in Oso to help a distraught community get back on its feet.

The passion for public service demonstrated by volunteers rushing to help out a community or individual in need, calls to mind anthropologist Margaret Mead’s comments regarding the first sign of civilization. You know you have found a civilization, she explained it, when you find a healed femur bone. As she explained it, in ancient times, when someone broke a femur, they couldn’t walk, hunt, or flee from danger. And more importantly, they couldn’t fix it on their own.  Someone had to care enough about that person to help them heal.

The folks helping communities like Oso recover are helping to heal those femurs following a national tragedy.  But the fact is, if you take a look around you’ll see people quietly taking part in national service every single day.

Last year alone, more than 72,000 people across the country volunteered with AmeriCorps, with 9,800 people from Washington State answering the call for community service. This and other organizations overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service, like Senior Corps and the Washington Conservation Corps group working in Oso, do extraordinary work ­— helping kids get a shot at a better education, enhancing disaster preparedness, or mobilizing a team of volunteers to give a family in need a new home.

Take AmeriCorps for example. AmeriCorps gives young Americans an opportunity to support community organizations around the country while getting scholarship assistance. And people want these opportunities. In fact, AmeriCorps received 580,000 applications for 80,000 openings. The Kitsap Community Resources’ (KCR’s) AmeriCorps program received 92 applications this past year for 18 full-time positions. Local positions include tutors at Central Kitsap and Bremerton schools, the local Red Cross, Children of the Nations, the YWCA and several KCR locations. In the past seven months they have provided nearly 20,000 hours of service to our community.

Reflecting on all that good service does, five years ago Congress came together to pass the Serve America Act. The bill was crafted in a bipartisan way because members could see the important role that public service plays in strengthening our communities and instilling civic responsibility.

Unfortunately, today we see that some of that spirit has been lost in our nation’s capital. The budget proposal that recently passed the House would completely eliminate all federal funding for national service.

We think it’s time to do better than that. We should not turn our backs on organizations that have done so much to inspire and improve the lives of our communities. Five years after our national service act, it’s time we acknowledged there is more work to do.

By fully supporting programs that foster national service in our communities, we are empowering citizens to make progress on our most pressing social and economic challenges. More importantly, investing in national service organizations means we are building the resources and networks that can help neighbors take care of each other – people power in action. And as Alan Khazei, chair of the Franklin Project which promotes national service, said, service can lead to “employment opportunities and [can] help young Americans development important job skills for their future careers.”

We will continue to push for investments in the Corporation for National and Community Service. There are a lot more broken femurs to fix and we know there are plenty of Americans out there who are inspired to do their part. Let’s make sure they have an avenue to turn their desire to help into reality.

Submitted by Rep. Derek Kilmer and Larry Eyer, Executive Director, Kitsap Community Resources.





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