In honor of Independence Day, LISC's AmeriCorps director, Stacey Rapp, considers the role that national service plays in making our ideal of freedom a reality for all Americans.
I vaguely remember the Bicentennial celebration of our nation. It was 1976, and my family was gathered around the picnic table in the backyard of our yellow raised ranch in rural New York. I’m sure we were celebrating freedom with burgers and potato salad and an intense discussion on politics. I was too young to be paying much attention. I was busy with my box of sparklers.
I’ve been reflecting on that day and others like it, as I plan my own July 4th barbeque. Freedom has always been a reason to celebrate, and service to our country something to be deeply honored.
Maybe that’s why I believe so strongly in AmeriCorps and the ways it gives ordinary Americans the chance to do extraordinary things. AmeriCorps’ model of national service helps protect the promise of America, by working here at home, extending the benefits of freedom and opportunity to those who have been marginalized by social and economic forces.
I think FDR explained it best in his 1941 Four Freedoms speech, three decades before AmeriCorps was founded: “The basic things expected by our people . . .are simple: equality of opportunity for youth and for others; jobs for those who can work; security for those who need it; the ending of special privilege for the few; the preservation of civil liberties for all.”
Those words ring as true today as they ever did. Inequality continues to undermine economic growth. For too many people, the American ideal of “opportunity” is still beyond their reach.
AmeriCorps members commit their time and talent to some of the country’s most challenging domestic problems. Many are grappling with some of those same issues in their own lives. But, they give a year or two to help connect struggling people to better jobs, housing, and education. It might not be the patriotism most people think of when they hear the national anthem or wave the flag. But AmeriCorps members do their part to stand up for our democratic ideals, even if it goes mostly unacknowledged.
At LISC, our commitment to national service has been unwavering for 23 years. We recently celebrated a $1.44 million federal grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, which will fund 165 AmeriCorps members for the coming year working in 13 communities across the country. They will join more than 3,000 LISC AmeriCorps members who over the years have worked in 62 cities to create economic opportunity and improve the overall quality of life.
AmeriCorps is a critical resource, but it’s at risk in the current budget environment, having been zeroed out of the President’s FY18 budget request. It’s puzzling given the impact of the more than one million AmeriCorps members who have given of themselves to serve our country. From homeownership counseling to employment training, and economic development to crime reduction, LISC AmeriCorps members make a daily difference in America’s urban and rural communities—in fact, often working to give back to the very places where they grew up.
So, as we settle in to watch the fireworks this year, let’s commit to investing in our future. Let’s work to realize the freedoms that FDR so eloquently described, through people and programs that develop living-wage jobs, eliminate homelessness, reduce crime, support youth and make our economy fairer and more productive for everyone.
On this Independence Day, let’s remember that national service is a gift to our country. We should cherish it. I know I do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stacey Rapp, Director, LISC AmeriCorps
Stacey manages all aspects of LISC’s AmeriCorps program, from ensuring high quality member service assignments and partner selection to managing LISC’s relationship with the Corporation for National and Community Service and other major funders.