In the face of difficult American economic conditions, public and social service programs are facing greater scrutiny than ever before. Programs which benefit millions of U.S. residents — from school children to the elderly — are now on the budget chopping block.
But while so many of the issues which affect the health, welfare and livelihood of American residents are framed as ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans, some transcend party politics. The value of volunteerism and national and community service should be beyond debate.
With our history of a strong work ethic, patriotic military service and compassion for the needy, it should come as no surprise that Maine residents are among our nation’s leaders in volunteerism, serving at a rate significantly higher than the national average. A 2011 report titled Volunteering in America showed Maine residents volunteer an average of 46 hours a year, ranking our state fourth in terms of hours-per-volunteer.
Even more impressive is the overall retention rate of those Maine volunteers who serve in community programs. While the retention rate for overall national service is 68 percent, last year 97 percent of AmeriCorps members serving in Maine completed the term of service they agreed to do. In fact, every Maine National Service volunteer served at least 100 hours in 2010 and many gave over 2,000 hours to their assignment.
Consider these facts, compiled in 2010:
• 2,673 people served as Maine AmeriCorps members, foster grandparents, senior companions or RSVP volunteers.
• 101,115 meals were prepared and delivered to homebound people by RSVP volunteers.
• 2,693 people were able to get to medical appointments thanks to senior companions.
• 802 homebound elders had the assistance and emotional support of a senior companion.
The benefits of public volunteerism are seen everywhere throughout our society. Dedicated members provide support in schools, hospitals, drug treatment centers, correctional institutions and child care centers. Public and social service programs include health and wellness information, environmental education, planning assistance for the disabled, home weatherization, student after-school programs and a variety of other helpful resources.
The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America, and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve.
Commenting on President Obama’s recent nomination of Wendy Spencer to serve as CEO of the CNCS, AnnMaura Connolly, president of the Voices for National Service said, “At a time of economic crisis, when national service organizations are being heavily relied upon to provide vital services to communities throughout the country … lawmakers continue to threaten to cut the funding for this vital support for organizations that are serving families and communities in need. National service offers those who serve the opportunity to build skills and create pathways to work while delivering results for families and communities across the country that are struggling to make ends meet.”
During the 2010-2011 federal fiscal year, the CNCS committed more than $7.3 million to support Maine communities through national service programs and grants. Nearly $2 million of those funds are disbursed through grants awarded and managed by the Maine Commission for Community Service. The commission builds capacity and sustainability in Maine’s volunteer and service communities by funding national and community service programs, providing technical assistance and training to all national service grantees in Maine, raising awareness of the impact and reach of national service and promoting service as a strategy to tackle community problems.
The 25 members of the commission are appointed by the governor and each represents a different facet of Maine’s volunteer sector. MCCS was established in Maine statute in 1995.
Funding for the CNCS is money well spent. While corporate CEOs and liberal and conservative politicians alike use “return on investment” as a measure of value when determining budget allocation or the judicious use of our tax dollars, not all benefits are reflected in the ledger’s bottom line. Volunteer support and education for millions of residents represent an inestimable civic and cultural value, especially in these times of great financial difficulty.
The entire CNCS program is on the chopping block. Concerned Maine citizens should contact our senators’ offices and show their support for the federal funding of The Corporation for National and Community Service.
Keith Stover is an artist, novelist and musician who lives in Bucksport.