I’ll be honest, when I helped start Mt. Adams Institute in April, 2011, I didn’t have a clue about the work that it would entail, the community of support that it would require or the impact that it would have. I just had a dream of creating something that mattered . . . something that helped people and the natural world . . . something that positively shaped our communities.
Years later, I believe that we’re doing just that. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes sometimes. I usually make a few each week. But our programs are working. People’s lives are being positively impacted. We’re building stronger relationships.
When I learned that AmeriCorps (the largest funder of our VetsWork and Public Lands Stewards programs) was proposed for elimination in the 2018 federal budget, I became concerned for what we’ve created. I’m worried about the people and the public lands that will not be supported if our programs cease to exist. But I’m not resigned to just letting it go. I’m committed to making sure people understand the importance of programs like AmeriCorps. On that note, here’s a letter to the editor that I’ve been sharing with our local media.
“Twenty years ago, as a newly minted college graduate, I stumbled into an opportunity that changed my life. From a telephone booth at a windblown rest stop along a Wyoming interstate, I accepted a position with AmeriCorps – at the time, a relatively new national service program similar to the Peace Corps but with a domestic focus.
Created to engage our citizens in community-building efforts at the most local level, AmeriCorps programs and members serve our nation in six focus areas: disaster relief, education, public health, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship and veterans / military families. AmeriCorps members participate in exchange for a modest living stipend (currently around $12,350 for a year of service) and an education award that increases access to a post-secondary education.
Since its beginning in 1994, more than 1,000,000 Americans have served in AmeriCorps. Many alumni continue to serve their communities to this day. While I can’t claim to have had a conversation with either President George H. W. Bush or President Bill Clinton, I have to believe that collectively they both hoped for and anticipated these excellent outcomes through their respective efforts as the president that laid the groundwork for the program and the one that brought it into fruition. Does anyone else miss this type of bi-partisan collaboration that seems to be in such short supply these days?
My own AmeriCorps journey first began with two years of mentoring youth as an AmeriCorps Member with the “I Have A Dream” Foundation in Portland, Oregon. Even as I provided a “service” to these young people, I received two-fold what I gave in terms of the creation of long-term relationships, new career skills, networking opportunities, and developing a strong sense of purpose. That experience cemented a belief that work can provide for both the table and the heart. It also pushed me towards a career in service; and it’s a path that I’ve been on for the past twenty years.
Five years ago, I started an organization, the Mt. Adams Institute, and a program, VetsWork, that continues this journey. VetsWork is an AmeriCorps program that engages military veterans in service to our public lands and natural resources. Similar to my own story, our veterans learn skills and build networks that increase their opportunity for employment in the field. Guess what? It’s working. To date, over 50 participants have been hired into the field. Even more importantly, participants report that the program helps them discover a new sense of purpose in the civilian world as they transition out of military service. And although this new found mission will never replace the one that supported their efforts as service members, they nonetheless see it as vital to their reengagement in our communities.
Unfortunately the good work of our veterans and the other 80,000 AmeriCorps members across the country is at risk. Recently, the White House released its 2018 budget that calls for the elimination of AmeriCorps and hundreds of other programs that are building and protecting our communities. It doesn’t have to be this way. I urge people to continue to stand up both for veterans and for the important services that exist in our country. AmeriCorps is one such program. Let your Congressional representatives know that AmeriCorps must remain funded.”