There’s a misconception out there about our nation’s young folks and we’d like to set the record straight. You may have heard it said that all millennials are “electronically linked but emotionally disconnected,” or don’t engage with the communities in which they live.
We wholeheartedly disagree.
As leaders of organizations that have been part of the AmeriCorps program since its founding 20 years ago, we have witnessed citizens from all generations give their incredible energy and talent to make this country stronger and safer. In fact, from our perspective, the interest in service is only growing. Teach For America received over 50,000 applications this past year – 16 times 1994’s total. In those 20 years, 8,000 corps members have served with Habitat for Humanity, reaching 20,000 families and engaging more than 3 million volunteers.
This week, as AmeriCorps marks its 20th year of engaging Americans in service opportunities, we are celebrating the citizens who dedicate their time for the good of justice and equality in this nation and reflecting on how we can continue to harness our nation’s spirit of service.
Over the course of two decades, AmeriCorps, through the oversight of the Corporation for National and Community Service, has engaged more than 820,000 corps members who have collectively contributed over 1 billion hours in service to this country. AmeriCorps represents an enormous network of committed individuals who have made lasting contributions to – and connections with – communities across our nation.
Through AmeriCorps, members have the opportunity to work with families and neighbors to build new homes, to teach students who deserve an excellent education despite the challenges of educational inequity, and to bring innovation, passion, and skill to benefit communities nationwide. Around the country, AmeriCorps members are tutoring in after-school programs and youth centers, improving local safety, working in homeless shelters and assisting customers at home improvement stores and donation centers. And most of all, they know and love the places they work, live, and serve, while making lasting, positive change.
The concept of a service corps is elegant and powerful. The impact of one individual is great, but their coordinated efforts multiply that impact beyond imagination.
At Teach For America, we’re proud of the 10,600 corps members who are currently teaching in classrooms across the country. And over the last 25 years, we’ve seen so many of our corps members commit long-term to the broader efforts of fostering educational equity. Of our more than 37,000 alumni, 90% are still working in education or in low-income communities today. About 11,000 are teaching, nearly 800 are leading schools, and over 200 are leaders in school systems. When you add in the hundreds that are serving their communities in elected office, or working in policy, organizing or advocacy, you get a clear glimpse into the dedication, innovative spirit, and talent of this generation.
The Habitat AmeriCorps program has affected countless communities over the last 20 years, but it’s hard to find a community where this program has had more of an impact than New Orleans. Since August 29, 2006, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity has hosted over 600 AmeriCorps from different programs who have gutted 2,400 deteriorated homes, built 400 new homes and managed 142,700 volunteers. According to Jim Pate, CEO of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, “Of all of the incredible support and aid that the federal government has given to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - the best thing they ever gave us came in a gray T-shirt with the AmeriCorps emblem on the breast.”
The overlap between our two organizations is cause for celebration as well. This year, more than 380 members who had served with Habitat for Humanity joined Teach For America. Poverty is multi-faceted and, given the connections between decent housing and students’ ability to make the most of educational opportunities, communities benefit from the efforts of dedicated people with firsthand experience in both areas.
This generation, like others before it, is brimming with commitment and passion. For 20 years, AmeriCorps has given us all the opportunity to channel that energy into service for our communities, changing millions of lives in the process. We encourage Americans of all generations to support AmeriCorps, so together, we can ensure another 20 years of opportunity for the next generation.
Elizabeth Blake is the Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs of Habitat for Humanity International. Matt Kramer is the co-CEO of Teach For America.