Friday, September 14, 2007

AmeriCorps*NCCC -- Heroes to the gulf coast, on the chopping block again in DC

I was really sad to hear that AmeriCorps*NCCC, the national service program I served in in 2000 that I would credit as one of the most important experiences in my life, and which I believe passionately is one of the best uses of taxpayer money that exists, is once again in financial peril, with President Bush proposing, and the house agreeing, to slash the budget by 58% (for proper context, that's from $26 million to $11 million).

But this editorial made me very, very happy, though it's not surprising. Since Hurricane Katrina, AmeriCorps*NCCC has, quite correctly, been devoting most of its resources to recovery on the gulf coast. This is exactly the kind of work NCCC, with its small, energetic, mobile teams, is perfectly designed to do.

I also know that everybody who watches an AmeriCorps*NCCC team in action becomes a devoted fan of the program. That was true in my experience, and for every other team I heard about. How could you not love the program when you see 12 or so young people who are devoting a year of their lives to helping improve their country while making virtually no money and living in crappy conditions?

To quote my favorite part of the editorial from the South Mississippi Sun Herald:

Among the many who wear the name "hero" in our book of golden deeds performed here, the Americorps volunteers will forever have a place of honor in our memory - idealistic young people, and seniors also, who came here and lived in Spartan conditions for month after month, in military tents, going out day after day to help the people of South Mississippi pull themselves out of the debris and rebuild.

So there is some amazement, and perhaps a bit of controlled anger, to know that the House would so injudiciously cut this fine organization to the bone.

Perhaps those who control the budgets would fare better in the opinion of their countrymen if they came and served in this zone of extreme need as these fine Americorps volunteers have done. But absent such service, their next best step toward redemption would be to restore the funding.

I was also really thrilled to read that the one person in Congress pushing to expand the program, instead of cut it, is MS senator Thad Cochran. He's a conservative Republican, but it just goes to show that national service is hardly a liberal idea. It's using a very limited amount of federal resources to enable Americans to work together to improve America and, at the same time, develop an ethos of national unity and service. Who in their right mind would want to do anything but make such a program big enough to fit everybody who wants to join?

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