Submitted by kaparker on Mon, 02/01/2021 - 16:52
Mal Coles, Acting CEO, AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is indispensable to meeting our nation’s challenges


Watching President Biden take the oath of office last week reminded me of an inauguration from a different time. I was 15 years old when President John F. Kennedy became president. Growing up in Boston—the birthplace of our democracy and home to the Kennedys—this was a big moment for our community. 

It was in his inaugural address that President Kennedy made his famous call to service: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  

I was profoundly moved by his speech and by the idea—so powerfully expressed in that quote—that every American has something to contribute to making our country better; that our greatness is not about what can be done for us, but what can be done by us, together.  

That idea is at the heart of who we are as Americans and is behind everything we do at AmeriCorps. It has been driving force of my entire career and is why I am honored to step into the role of acting CEO. 

THE PATH OF SERVICE

My service journey began in 1967, when I served three years as a VISTA Volunteer and VISTA Leader – now known as an AmeriCorps member–assigned to the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council in Arizona.

Since then, my experience in national service has included positions with the Office of Economic Opportunity, the ACTION Agency, and AmeriCorps; including a detail to the White House in 1993 to help Eli Segal “turn the poetry into prose” by standing up the newly created Corporation for National and Community Service and launching AmeriCorps. 

Through a career spanning 16 administrations, I have seen growing recognition from leaders of both parties about the value of national service to solve problems, expand opportunity, and strengthen communities.

I have had countless opportunities to witness first-hand the power of national service to transform lives and communities. 

I’ve seen our members and volunteers—young, old, and in between—tackle some of our toughest challenges: fighting hunger and opioid addiction, helping seniors live independently, keeping students on track in school, giving hope to communities impacted by disasters, and much more. 

I’ve seen the power of service to bridge divides and unite people from different backgrounds to work together for the common good. 

The work of national service isn’t “nice.” It’s indispensable; core to our nation’s well-being, and central to how we tackle the big problems facing our country today.

Coming from the field, I know it can be challenging to run a national service program, or to make the sustained commitment to serve in AmeriCorps. I’m extremely grateful to all those who have chosen this path. You are making a powerful and lasting impact on people’s lives.

Thanks to the dedication of our 270,000 members and volunteers—and the leadership of our staff and partners across the country who make their service possible—national service is strong, secure, and poised for greater impact. 

MOMENT OF NEED AND OPPORTUNITY 

As a nation, we are at a pivotal moment, a turning point.

As we race to address the converging crises of COVID—19, an economic downturn, climate change, and racial inequity—our mission has never been more important. 

As the pandemic rages on, national service members are providing surge capacity for vaccination, testing, tracing, and other measures needed to slow the spread. The inclusion of AmeriCorps in the President’s COVID-19 Executive Order recognizes our important role in this fight.

As remote schooling continues across the country, our programs that teach, tutor, and mentor students in underserved communities are more important than ever to keep students engaged and on track. 

As more families struggle to put food on the table, the sustained support our AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers provide for food banks and meal distribution programs are vital to meet the surging demand.

National service can play a crucial role in helping the nation meet these challenges. As President Biden said, “Service—looking out for one another, is part of who we are as a nation. Service is a fitting way to start to heal, unite, and rebuild this country we love.”

We are grateful for the participation of the first and second families and several cabinet nominees in the annual MLK Day of Service, which AmeriCorps has had the honor to lead for the last 26 years. Their involvement demonstrates that service is an important and necessary part of how we will meet the challenges ahead.

And just minutes after an inauguration in which the President made a call for unity, healing, and compassion, AmeriCorps welcomed our first set of appointees. This extremely talented and accomplished group of leaders will bring energy, ideas, and diverse perspectives to our agency and the national service movement. 

I am thankful for all the hard work by so many that has brought us to this point, and confident that with the leadership of the new administration and the resolve of our members across the country, national service is ready to meet this moment.

As it was 60 years ago when President Kennedy called a new generation into service, the beginning of this new administration provides a renewed opportunity to unleash the power of service to meet our nation’s challenges. 

Let’s get to work!