By Liz Blake
The Serve America Act, five years later: Thousands of home built, millions of lives touched.
43,824 – that is the number of hours in five years.
4,446,900 – that is the number of hours of service that AmeriCorps members working with Habitat for Humanity have performed in the past five years.
On this fifth anniversary of the Serve America Act, a significant law that was the largest expansion of national service since the Great Depression, Habitat for Humanity decided to crunch some numbers on our AmeriCorps program. What were the results? We are more grateful than ever for the members who have helped build or rehabilitate 11,434 Habitat homes and engage more than 1 million of our volunteers since the act’s passage in 2009.
The timing of the passage of this law could not have been better; when many nonprofit organizations bore the brunt of the economic downturn, Habitat’s AmeriCorps members raised nearly $20 million. Further, in an era of increasing disasters due to extreme weather, Habitat’s ability to facilitate the placement of AmeriCorps members over the past five years in disaster recovery efforts has ensured their work impacts communities in greatest need.
As one of the original organizations to partner with the Corporation for National and Community Service 20 years ago, our organization recognizes how AmeriCorps members increase our capacity to serve more families in the United States. Serving in 37 states and the District of Columbia, our AmeriCorps members are key to several programs, including Veterans Build, our Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative and ReStores, Habitat’s nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers. In the 2012-2013 service year alone, Habitat AmeriCorps members served more than 3,400 families, nearly one-third of Habitat’s 9,874 U.S. partner families that year.
The cost-effective AmeriCorps program that the Serve America Act expanded helps not only Habitat affiliates nationwide and the communities they serve – it benefits the service members themselves. In addition to developing leadership skills and providing hands-on experience, the Serve America Act provides AmeriCorps members funding to further their education – a benefit that increases along with the Pell Grant allocations. Also, for those AmeriCorps members who are serving beyond the age of 55, that education award is transferrable.
For Charles R. Castle Jr., joining AmeriCorps – a term that didn’t mean much to him in 2009 – not only eased his transition into retirement but also allowed him to use his training in sustainable building to serve his Oregon community. Four years and six builds later, Castle is giving his education award under the Serve America Act to his daughter, who will graduate as a registered nurse this June. The ability to transfer this award is part of the many improvements the Serve America Act made to the AmeriCorps program.
Our AmeriCorps partners join us from all walks of life and experiences. Young or old, male or female, construction experts or novices, our AmeriCorps members are future leaders in the affordable housing movement. In the words of Neal Pointer, a Vietnam veteran who joined our Dallas Area affiliate as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in order to serve fellow veterans and their families, “AmeriCorps has given me the opportunity to serve my country again.”
Serving under the Serve America Act, Pointer developed a sustainable program to recruit veterans as homeowners and volunteers, including partnerships with other organizations to ensure a continuum of care for veterans.
On this anniversary of the Serve America Act, we celebrate the critical role of our service members in mobilizing volunteers, helping communities recover after a disaster, engaging families and veterans and encouraging financial support for our operations.
While the Serve America Act has strengthened several aspects of the AmeriCorps program, the full potential of the act has yet to be realized. Provisions in the Serve America Act have supported the 2,443 AmeriCorps members who have joined Habitat since 2009 in our mission to end poverty housing in the United States and around the world.
However, as national service has not been expanded to the degree the act set forth, the United States is missing out on additional service opportunities for interested Americans across the country. As we celebrate this anniversary and look toward the next five years, Habitat for Humanity will continue to be a strong voice in the national service movement and support the goals of the Serve America Act so that many more AmeriCorps members can benefit from this impactful law.
Liz Blake is the Senior Vice President, Advocacy, Government Affairs and General Counsel for Habitat for Humanity International.