By Wendy Spencer
Iowa can add another “first-in-the-nation” jewel to its crown with today’s announcement by Governor Terry Branstad of the creation of the Governor’s Council on National Service in Iowa.
Led by the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, and developed in partnership with the Franklin Project, the Governor’s Council will engage leaders from state agencies, higher education, and the private sector to make recommendations on how to expand national service and volunteer opportunities in Iowa.
The Council’s goals mirror those of the Task Force on Expanding National Servicecreated by President Obama last summer: identifying policies, developing partnerships, and using technology to expand opportunities for citizens to meet critical needs through service.
I salute Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds for their leadership in establishing this Council, which builds on our work on the national level and is an example we hope other states will follow.
Governor Branstad has been a longtime champion of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps as a cost-effective community solution. In a recent Huffington Post column “National Service is a No-Brainer,” the Governor highlighted AmeriCorps’ key role in meeting local needs and in mobilizing other volunteers, noting that each Iowa AmeriCorps member manages an average of 40 other volunteers. “Volunteers need to be recruited, scheduled, and have their activities planned; national service is making that happen and has fueled Iowa’s growth in volunteerism over the last 20 years,” the Governor said.
One of the key goals of the Iowa Governor’s Council – and of the President’s Task Force — is to launch new public-private partnerships to engage citizens in national service, building on the strong foundation created over decades through AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and other CNCS programs.
That spirit was on full display this morning at the Iowa Capitol. Col. Robert King, Executive Director of Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, spoke of his interest in developing an AmeriCorps VISTA project to help returning veterans find employment. Tina Yoder, a senior executive from MidAmerican Energy, highlighted her company’s investment in Green Iowa AmeriCorps, whose members increase energy efficiency through home weatherization, energy education, and community outreach. And Shannon Cofield from Drake University announced a project to match Drake mentors with low income students to spur interest in STEM careers using AmeriCorps VISTA and Iowa College AmeriCorps. Drake is also developing a post-graduate national service experience in partnership with Des Moines area nonprofits.
Brandon Gibbs, a Green Iowa AmeriCorps member, caulks the edges of a window frame in a home he is weatherizing in Dubuque, Iowa. Photo by Jeremy Portje, Telegraph Herald
Today’s announcement reminds us of another key player in America’s service and volunteering infrastructure: State Service Commissions. Whether managing AmeriCorps programs, coordinating volunteers after natural disasters, leading days of service, or serving as laboratories of innovation, these Governor-appointed State Commissions play an indispensable role in fostering service and community solutions in our nation.
From the halls of Congress to state capitols to city halls across the country, elected leaders from all backgrounds are recognizing that national service is a smart investment. As Governor Branstad said, “Service is an issue that Republicans and Democrats should both wholeheartedly embrace, especially during times of austere budgets.” We applaud the Governor and all those who are working to expand opportunities for Americans to make our nation stronger through service.
Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service and serves as co-chair of the Task Force on Expanding National Service.