Many people have no idea what a national service program is let alone what an important roll they play in filling the gap between services provided by government programs such as public education and the non profit sector.
National Service Programs are programs such as VISTA, Ameri Corps, Public Allies and City Year.
These programs provide a couple things –
1. For those that apply and are accepted – employment with the ability to train or learn in specific field – usually education or non profit based.
2. In employing National Service Program Members organizations can build their capacity at a lower overhead cost than employing a full time non member – instead of paying $25 – 45,000 a year with or without benefits – you can pay $6000 a year – the other half covered by the US government which totals $12,000 give or take a few thousand and have someone do the same work.
3. The members who complete their year of service earn an taxable education award of $5,000 + that helps them to either further their education or reduce their already incurred education debt.
When I break down my pay $1,000 a month / 30 days = $33.3 a day. $33.3 divided by 8 hours = $4.10 an hour. The minimum wage in California is $8/hr. You do the math. Can anyone really get this type of financial trade off in the US without outsourcing?
The individuals like myself trade the opportunity for work experience for the lack of pay. I can also honestly say with the economy so bad – this is a great option for recent college and university grads if they know what they are getting into.
I think these programs are also great for those looking for ways to finance community college or a four year university.
The down side is that as a participant in these programs you are living below the poverty line in a real way. I have food stamps which without them and living at home and paying an extremely cheap rent – I can say things would be even tighter than they are now – I would probably have zero dollars or negative numbers in my bank account rather than a few pennies or a couple of dollars at the end of the month.
The upside is that working as a member in these programs you are providing a real and tangible stop gap that helps non profits and school agencies stretch their limited services even farther with populations where the need only increases never decreases.
I can honestly say that those who work as National Service Program members are on the front line of prevention, retention and movement of youth just as public school teachers, social workers, and health clinic workers are. As someone who sees in the community I work in with a over 40% drop out or in completion of high school and 15% rate of teen pregnancy. Not to mention the extremely high numbers of youth with felonies – that I struggle daily to get employed.
I know Ameri Corps members are needed. National Service Programs are needed in such a real way the thought of them being lost by budget cuts is sicking. Not just for the members who serve – in terms of employment and personal transformation but more so for the individuals and communities we serve.
The U.S. Congress is always looking for ways to cut the budget – sadly its usually in the areas – in my humble opinion we need to invest in – such as National Service Programs, infrastructure and education.
This boils down to a couple of questions –
Can we realistically expect to be competitive in the world economy if we don’t invest in education and infrastructure?
And if we don’t and we choose not to fund National Service Programs which are like a band aid on the cracks on a dam – where will we end up?
If we value these things and want to see positive change – who will fund it if we don’t?