Friday, January 21, 2011

National Service: An Investment We Can't Afford to Lose

From The Chronicle for Philanthropy:

Nonprofit lobbyists will have their hands full in the new Congress. House Republican leaders have already said they want to bring a big chunk of federal spending this year back to 2008 levels.

But now a group of conservative Republicans says that’s not enough. The Republican Study Committee, a bloc of more than 165 members, unveiled a proposal Thursday that would end a range of federal programs that benefit charities and their clients.

Among its proposals:
* Eliminate AmeriCorps and other national-service programs.
* Abolish the Agency for International Development.
* Close the national endowments for the arts and humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
* End Department of Energy grants to help low-income people weatherize their homes.

National service programs like AmeriCorps are not a drain on our resources – quite the opposite. They provide support systems and opportunities that not only make our communities better, but that help our communities function – especially when economic times are tough. Higher Achievement has been fortunate enough to host several talented VISTA volunteers and AmeriCorps direct service members, and we see every day the impact that these tremendous programs have on community-based organizations, the youth and families we serve, and our communities at large.

Because of the expanded capacity made possible by VISTA volunteers over the past three years, we have: expanded and improved our volunteer recruitment, management, and retention practices (critical to securing long-term positive academic outcomes for scholars); developed and implemented new family engagement strategies based on best practices in the field; engaged new funders and champions to ensure sustainability; piloted an alumni engagement strategy to ease the transition to 9th grade; and developed programmatic partnerships that provide social services safety nets to our most at-risk scholars and their families.

Midway through our first year hosting direct service AmeriCorps members at our DC Achievement Centers we are already seeing them make great strides to improve our services to scholars and families, as well as deepening our school partnerships. One Member at our Ward 6 center, Ms. Amelia, embodies the impact of this program. Amelia noticed that a group of scholars in her study hall, who all had the same science teacher at school, were earning Cs in that class, even though she knew they had been very engaged in science over the summer at Higher Achievement. Amelia met with the teacher, and learned that the scholars had been completing their assignments incorrectly. She and the teacher worked together to identify improvement strategies, and she began working with those scholars in a special extended study hall, focused on their science assignments. By the time report cards were released, all of the scholars had increased their grades to an A. Without the expanded capacity at Center to drill down deeply on scholars’ individualized needs in the classroom, we would never have been able to help shepherd such dramatic improvement. The AmeriCorps program allows Higher Achievement to increase its full-time Center staffing by 50% at nominal cost to the organization, and our scholars are already reaping the rewards.

AmeriCorps and other national service programs are making a dramatic impact on the capacity of community-based organizations working in the most at-risk communities across the country. We know without a doubt that economic opportunity for our country begins in our schools, homes, and on our streets. If we are to see the reap the rewards tomorrow, we must invest in those places today.

- Richard Tagle
CEO, Higher Achievement


  1. Mr. Tagle,

    I understand your concerns about the cuts that are being proposed. However, to become financially fit and effective in all areas of education, the nation will be forced to make extremely tough cuts to programs that do good work.

    As a Higher Achievement mentor for 3 years and someone who professionally advocates on behalf of educational non-profits every day, I understand the incredible benefit and value of AmeriCorps direct service members. I also understand the value of mentors like me who work with our amazing scholars on our own no cost to tax payers.

    At times like these, Higher Achievement, AmeriCorps and many other AMAZING organizations will have to do what American families are doing every day - tighten the financial belt, be creative and get it done.

    A Great Fan of Higher Achievement and Our Amazing Scholars,
    “Ms. Deana”

  2. Ms. Deana,

    Thanks for your comment – and for being a part of the Higher Achievement family!

    Your point about cutting back in tough times in well taken, and you’re absolutely right about the incredible value of volunteer staff. Without you, we couldn’t do this work.

    An additional point on Americorps – while we have an amazing team of fellows on the ground at center (the folks you’ve likely seen hard at work), we also have a group of Americorps VISTAS – volunteers – who you don’t see at center. This team is working at the National and local levels to build capacity, forge community relationships, recruit stakeholders and more – jobs that we would otherwise have to pay staff to do. We are able to leverage the efforts of these volunteers into more mentors, more resources, more supports for scholars at Center...thanks to programs like Americorps that promote service and make it possible.

    Thanks again for your thoughts, and your kind words about Higher Achievement – and for advocating on behalf of others like us in the education world!

    - Richard