City Year staff fights to keep AmeriCorps relevant despite budget cuts

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AMERICORPS VOLUNTEERS meet regularly to discuss how best they can serve the needs of at-risk students in the schools. Funding for the program is being threatened by Trump’s budget cuts.

By Dana Rettig, Chicago Crusader

First, the Meals on Wheels and the Women, Infant and Child (WIC) programs were cut from the Trump Budget leaving millions of recipients devastated and completely outraged. Now, he’s on the verge of eliminating the AmeriCorps, a program that has enabled many inner-city youth to graduate from high school and go onto college or some other career alternative. One thing that has been consistent with participants in the program is that they become inspirational heroes for the next generation. Their example provides proof of a real life alternative for those that might seek attention in the wrong places.

AmeriCorps was established by the Clinton Administration in 1994 with the purpose and hopes of keeping kids out of trouble and in school, so they become heroes for the inner-city youth and beyond. Various volunteers and staff members knew that if they wanted to assist children in receiving a proper education, they had to become good, law-abiding citizens. In order to do this they would need as much assistance as possible for the students, as well as some for the staff and volunteers.

This is one of the reasons City Year’s Executive Director Rebecca Nieves-Huffman and others fight on a daily basis to keep the dream alive for the helpless and underserved. “I came back to City Year as Executive Director last January. I lead 44 members and 230 full-time AmeriCorps volunteers as they serve students as tutors and mentors in high-needs Chicago Public Schools establishments,” Huffman said. “AmeriCorps is the federal, urban Peace Corp that helps communities find structure within the city. [The President] and members of Congress decide whether to fund the program or not. I was a volunteer in 1998, so I know the ins and outs of mentorship and leadership within the establishment, which is one of the reasons I decided to join––to become an inspiration to those that don’t have anyone to look up to.”

When asked what her thoughts on Trump wanting to cut the City Year program out of his budget, Huffman affirmed solemnly, “AmeriCorps is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service at the federal level. This is one of the many programs that the President’s proposed budget has suggested eliminating, along with others like National Public Radio and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“This scenario has taken place before. [AmeriCorps] was zeroed out and it forced AmeriCorps-funded programs all over the country to shrink its reach commensurate to the percentage of AmeriCorps funding represented in their total budget. For City Year Chicago that meant going to the private sector for even more support to make up for the loss, and scaling back the program. In 2004, AmeriCorps was funded again, courtesy of establishments such as, BMO Harris Bank, Exelon, Chicago Skye (women’s basketball team), et cetera,” said Hoffman proudly. “Luckily, the Republicans and Democrats support us. All isn’t lost.”

She resumed, “Since our understanding is that the President is cutting these programs because he wishes to invest in the military service, I’d tell him that there isn’t just one way to serve your country. AmeriCorps allows Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve domestically and make our communities stronger, which makes me wonder why would President Trump want to eradicate AmeriCorps? We need more mentorship and academic leadership. It’s imperative for children to seek out positive outlets such as afterschool programs, because it will definitely train students to become more focused on their studies and it’ll help the volunteers help students reach their full potential,” she said. “We’ve helped over 200 people graduate from high school, which is excellent, but we still have more work to do if we want to see change within the city, especially in this unfortunate situation.” For more information on City Youth, go to www.cityyear.org.

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