The eloquence of the AmeriCorps Pledge expresses the essence of volunteer service in America. Since 1994, more than 1 million AmeriCorps members nationally have taken this pledge as they embarked on their tour of service:
I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.
What set of words could be loftier, and yet more real? Their refrain has embodied the spirit of national and community service in America for 25 years.
It’s timely to celebrate the birth of AmeriCorps. Hard-fought political battles brought the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 to President Clinton’s desk. It’s no surprise that Minnesota, with its long tradition of community service, was at the forefront of passing this landmark legislation. One of this article’s authors (Dave Durenberger) had the honor of crossing the aisle to work with Paul Wellstone, the father of the other author. Our Minnesota backgrounds taught us that motivated volunteers, inserted into schools and community organizations, can make all the difference in the world.
National service is a tradition usually associated with the U.S. military, and we intended this to be a call on our national commitment – “one community at a time.” But more importantly, it illustrates a national tradition of representative service which begins “on the village green.”
In the 25 years since, our vision has been proven. Minnesota is fertile ground for AmeriCorps programs making a meaningful difference – in fact, the Twin Cities rank the highest in AmeriCorps members nationwide. From Reading Corps to College Possible, Habitat for Humanity to Recovery Corps, the bipartisan spirit that made the legislation possible lives in dozens of our state’s AmeriCorps accomplishments:
• More than 300,000 students, age 3-grade 3, have advanced their reading levels through Reading Corps.
• In Math Corps, AmeriCorps tutors have helped 25,000 students meet state math requirements.
• Hundreds of Habitat for Humanity families have safe homes, thanks to the hard work and loving touch of AmeriCorps members.
• Parks and trails have been upgraded through the dedication of Conservation Corps.
• Minnesota GreenCorps has advanced environmental protection across the state.
• High school students are finding post-secondary education within their reach through College Possible.
• Opportunity Corps has helped hundreds of families overcome the odds to make progress toward economic success.
• Recovery Corps is addressing the enormous need for recovery from opioid addiction.
We believe these and Minnesota’s other AmeriCorps programs are among our country’s finest, most noble examples of public-private partnerships to solve challenging problems in our communities.
At the heart of AmeriCorps is service. One community, one institutional leader, at a time. Throughout Minnesota – starting with community service, voluntary and representative – we are changing the ground on which our political leaders must stand. In our troubled world, it’s clear that not everyone has equal opportunity in life. Many, many people need a hand up, and many are lucky enough to be able to serve. The instinct to serve is ingrained in those of us who have had the honor of representing Minnesota in Congress.
Now, it’s time for more Minnesotans to serve. It’s not a chore; it’s an opportunity. In times of disaster – a flood or tornado – communities coalesce to help one another. There’s a universal sense of well-being in these situations. There’s satisfaction among the volunteers and gratitude among those who have been helped.
But we can’t wait for natural disasters to show our compassion. Communities are suffering from education gaps, inadequate job preparedness, and the grip of addiction – all conditions which can be mended with the help of AmeriCorps members.
The last line of the pledge says it all: “I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.”
David Durenberger represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, 1978-1995. David Wellstone co-founded Wellstone Solutions, a tech company dedicated to fighting addiction. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.