AmeriCorps VISTA: Some of the Finest

by allthingsace

Vincent Marzullo, Rhode Island’s Program Director for the Corporation for National and Community Service, announced on Friday July 17 to a group of AmeriCorps members at the Courtyard Marriott in Philadelphia, PA, “You are the largest, most qualified group of VISTA’s to date”. A thunderous applause erupted as this statement was made to over 120 individuals; these individuals are incoming AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers . What is a VISTA? VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America; it is part of AmeriCorps, it is an army of domestic do-gooders. Specifically, the VISTA program aims to fight poverty, and its members, who range anywhere between the ages of 18 and 78, pledge a year of service to address the issues that surround poverty. Hosted at the Courtyard Marriott in Philadelpia, PA from July 14-17, incoming volunteers sat around tables for hours on end, taking advantage of the opportunity to learn about why poverty exists, how it festers and the importance of building capacity in order to alleviate poverty. VISTA’s have been committed to the fight against poverty for over 40 years.

As you may have heard, America is experiencing an economic recession and we are at war. The recession has opened fire, devastating many states to what, at times, seems like the point of no return. The numbers of unemployed individuals is evidence of the recession and its consequences on the nation. If there were ever a rough year to graduate college it was this one. Sons and daughters of the affluent baby boomers have a hard time remembering the last time their good grades and sharp skills did not get them what they wanted. Today, these children are adults. Their peers, whether or not they have affluent parents, or good grades or even sharp skills, stand alongside them waiting for furloughs to end and job openings to post.

As you also may have heard, betwixt the departure of George W. Bush and the height of the recession, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of our United States. Hundreds of thousands of Americans still run around with tee-shirts that read “We can do it”, and “Yes we can”. Do what? What can we do? Obama’s answer is, that we can tap into our resourceful selves, pitch in and serve the communities we live in to improve the communities we live in. Obama’s message seems to have been successful. One among many examples of increased service includes this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, which had the largest turn-out ever this past January . Participants and sponsors of this service day say they owe it all to Obama’s call to service.

A call it most certainly is; Obama’s voice is the first thing America noticed when he hit the campaign trail. His bipartisan sentiments reverberate, and his message that no one can do it alone may at first speak against the grain that is what it means to be an American, but the existential possibility that we may be nothing without one another rings louder and more clearly.

In April, Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. This bill will provide for an increase in AmeriCorps members from 75,000 to 250,000 over an eight-year period. With this bill signed, organizations around the country now have the opportunity to hire employees who can build networks and capacity for effective community relations. Jeff Russell, Development Coordinator for AmeriCorps in San Jose believes that President Obama’s call to service has had a huge effect on young people (Notes 1) . Polls find that President Obama is the most popular incoming president with an 80% approval rating (Notes 2).

When Marzullo states, “You are the largest, most qualified group of VISTAs to date”, weathered, disgruntled faces from the recession credit this statement to the fact that there are no jobs. Marzullo’s statement may seem to suggest that historically, individuals with these qualities do not gather in roves to be paid a meager stipend in exchange for community service; but make no mistake, college educations, internships, work experience, all of these things matter when applying for a VISTA position.

It is still worth wondering, is the increase in numbers of community service providers a result of the recession, or is it a result of Barack Obama? As presented earlier, many believe it is President Obama’s call to service that has sparked the volunteer fire. But one could also wonder about the spike in volunteerism this way, is Obama’s call for service a practical solution to the economic situation or is it a result? Personal thoughts aside, it will only be after this situation is under control, and after Obama has served his term that we will get a better idea of what the incentive is for so many people to chose to serve in 2009.

For MLK Service Day Info:
Paraphrases from: 1. Amin, Lisa. “AmeriCorps will soon get a boost.” ABC 7 17 Mar. 2009. “He (Jeff Russell) also believes President Obama’s call for colunteerism left an impact on many young people, who are more interested than ever in donating their time” 2. Milligan, Susan. “Obama readies call for service, unity.” Boston Globe 20 Jan. 2009. “Recent polls have found that Obama is the most popular incoming president in a generation, with 80 percent of Americans in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday saying they approved of the way Obama handled the transition. Further, 71 percent said Obama had earned a mandate to work for major new social and economic programs”