Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Volunteerism In America

The founders fathers of this nation were not at all optimistic about the future of the Republic. There had been only a handful of other republics in all of human history, and most were small and far away. The founders' pessimism, though, came not from history but from their knowledge of human nature. A republic, to survive, needed not only the consent of the governed but also their active participation. It was not a machine that would go of itself; free societies do not stay free without the involvement of their citizens.

When Americans look around right now, they see a public-school system with 38% of fourth graders unable to read at a basic level; they see the cost of health insurance escalating as 47 million people go uninsured; they see a government that responded ineptly to a hurricane in New Orleans; and they see a war whose ends they do not completely value or understand. Maybe that's why so many of us do our part to make this nation "function better" by becoming volunteers.

In 2006 more than 61 million Americans dedicated 8.1 billion hours to volunteerism. The nation's volunteer rate has increased by more than 6 percentage points since 1989. Overall, 27% of Americans engage in civic life by volunteering. Dr. Franklin would be impressed. The service movement itself began to take off in the 1980s, and today there is a renaissance of dynamic altruistic organizations in the U.S., from Teach for America to City Year to Senior Corps, many of them under the umbrella of AmeriCorps. In a 2002 poll, 70% of Americans thought universal service was a good idea. And while it's easy to sit back and say this to a pollster, the next President can harness the spirit of volunteerism that already exists and make it a permanent part of American culture.

Just one example of a volunteer agency formed by the government is AmeriCorps which was formed by Bill Clinton in 1993. The then-senator John Ashcroft called it "welfare for the well-to-do."

Since 1994, 500,000 people have gone through AmeriCorps programs tutoring and teaching in urban schools; managing after-school programs; cleaning up playgrounds, schools and parks; and caring for the elderly. After Katrina, AmeriCorps participants descended on the Gulf Coast within 24 hours and have since contributed more than 3 million hours of service. AmeriCorps members earn a small stipend for their volunteering and receive education awards of up to $4,725 per year. Right now, says David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, "AmeriCorps is the best-kept secret in America." But under this national-service proposal, the program would more than triple in size, from 75,000 members each year to approximately 250,000. "We don't need to reinvent this nascent infrastructure," says Brown. "We need to take it to scale." Presently, AmeriCorps is a catch-all initiative for a variety of different programs. Here are four new branded corps and other programs that could come under the new Department of National Service.

Here's one more example of a volunteer service that works, and it's the Health Corp. There are nearly 7 million American children who are eligible for but not enrolled in government-sponsored health-insurance programs. Health Corps volunteers would assist the mostly low-income families of these children in accessing available public insurance offerings like the Children's Health Insurance Program. These volunteers could also act as nonmedical support staff such as caseworkers and community education specialists in underserved rural health clinics — which have less than three-quarters of the nonmedical staffing they need, according to Voices for National Service, a coalition of service organizations that advocates expanding federal service programs. The one-year experience in the Health Corps could lead these volunteers toward careers in nursing or medicine, helping to redress gaps that have left the U.S. with a dearth of qualified nurses and medical professionals.

America can use all the help it can get. Become a volunteer. I volunteer my time as an usher for a local classical music ensemble here in Portland. You can volunteer for something that interest you too. To find out more about volunteer agencies in America go to:

Research gathered from: (The Case For National Service - Richard Stengel)

Now here's some poems worth volunteering for:

How I Tore My Jacket

My jacket wasn’t always torn:

at one time it was as elegant as a grand bathroom
where the glare of white towels hurts your eyes. It
was as avant-garde as a jazz trio playing Monk.
When I put it on it was like putting on a lightning
storm displayed across a vast desert with nothing
to obstruct the view. It’s worth was equal to winning
the national lottery and having a banana republic
thrown in for good measure. It looked so hot it
bubbled like porridge. Plus, it would always lead me
to the most exciting flavors of ice cream. It even had
a way of rustling when I walked. But I had to go and
experiment with more fashionable clothes. I’d wear
it to paint the house in and insist it accompany me
when I put coal ashes in the trash. I suppose the last
straw was when I wore it to a common burger bar.
That’s when it tore itself on a cheap coat rack then
omitted a low hum of the long dead. Now all that’s
left is my muse which knows not how to pray through
a frenzy of Velcro.

Reconstructing The Kick-Off Protest

Dear Samantha,

As a result of breaking-up with me you’ve missed seeing the
sea on horse-back. You never got the chance to witness the
poetic honor in my muse or the chicken-flavored malt that
sticks to the scullery in my partial plate. Perhaps you
understand by now that my only weapon is one strum of
apeaceful lyre and that my heel spurs never meant to jingle
such a careless tune. Unscathed by love myself, I write this
banquet using a feast of scrap metal. Please hear my Boston
terrier whimpering and once again become my tanning salon.
Banana fritters. Bowls of micro-wave popcorn at midnight.
Nothing can take the place of your hang-nails. Not even the
fog of war left behind by Woodbines or all the free cigarettes
handed out at the subway’s entrance. All I’m asking is that
you let me bump and crackle your coal fire then send out
my mayday distress signal reassured that a rescue team is
on the way. Do try to remember that I’m the same guy who
said gunpowder makes me sneeze and that seven is my lucky
number. Keep in mind that the meaning of my story still waits
to be unwrapped and I can normally sleep at the drop of a hat
without the need of fancy prologues.

Poems published at:
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and music blog:

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