By Greg Tucker
When President Lyndon B. Johnson initiated the “War on Poverty” during his 1964 State of the Union address, he described one of the initiatives as “a National Service Corps to help the economically handicapped of our own country as the Peace Corps now helps those abroad.” By the end of that year, the first class of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was on its way to helping the poor in our nation’s most underserved areas. (A video marking the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty can be found on VISTA’s YouTube channel.)
They were dispatched to poor neighborhoods in cities, rural Appalachia, and migrant worker camps, and developed projects that built communities and increased economic opportunity. Along the way, VISTA recruited lawyers, doctors, and architects to join in their work, while inspiring its members to develop anti-poverty programs such as Head Start and Upward Bound that have impacted millions and continue to endure.
In 1993, VISTA became part of AmeriCorps, maintaining its rich heritage while delivering a blueprint of what national service can do to uplift people in need. With poverty continuing to be a stubborn foe, AmeriCorps programs have fully embraced the fight to increase economic opportunity not just from the top down but from the bottom up.
National service provides the spark that boosts community initiatives that improve the financial well-being and security of economically disadvantaged individuals. Community organizations across the country are learning about specific interventions to address the housing, financial literacy, and employment needs of low-income populations, as well as serve in areas like early childhood education that pay big dividends later.
Our agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), focused on economic opportunity during the 2014 Martin Luther King Day of Service as national service members across the nation joined others inspired to serve on the holiday. Americans volunteered in community centers and schools, collected food and clothing donations for those in need, and engaged in construction projects to build or repair homes.
Thousands of AmeriCorps VISTA members are working with communities every day to create economic opportunities that help individuals overcome poverty. (One recent story came from VISTA Christina Bodison, who we featured in this National Service Blog post.) We are proud to further this legacy of service to fight poverty, supported by the energy of all of our AmeriCorps and the national service family.
President Johnson noted that the War on Poverty would be neither short nor easy, but that our country could not afford to lose it. By making 2014 a “year of action,” our nation can continue to fight the good fight.
The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. For more information about AmeriCorps’ 20th Anniversary celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal.