By Bill Basl
AmeriCorps director salutes veterans as critical part of national service family
The National World War II, Vietnam Veterans, and Korean War Veterans memorials remind us of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The spirit of President Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial compels us to learn about the lessons of wartime and the nation’s responsibility to “care for his widow, and his orphan.” And when we stand in the shadow of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, we are inspired by his creed, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”
I have visited these Washington, DC, monuments many times. But during a recent gathering of AmeriCorps members and national service partners and supporters, it struck me that each of the national memorials I have come to know are actually invitations to carry on the tradition of service. These memorials are not just reflections of what is gone, past accomplishments, and hard-won victories. Rather, they are also guide posts for the present and future. That’s because they encourage us to discover our life’s purpose—a calling that is much bigger than ourselves. Service is that calling.
I am proud of the 17,000 veterans who have served in AmeriCorps since its inception. The leadership skills that our military members have honed while serving our country at home and abroad are critical to the work we do.
No one understands this concept more than our military servicemen and women. At CNCS, one of our main priorities is engaging veterans and military families in our national service programs. And I am proud of the 17,000 veterans who have served in AmeriCorps since its inception. The leadership skills that our military members have honed while serving our country at home and abroad are critical to the work we do. Whether they’re teaching students in underserved communities, helping communities rebuild after disaster strikes, or connecting fellow veterans to jobs or education opportunities, the contributions of our veterans change lives across the country.
Former Navy SEAL Sidney Ellington is a stellar example.
In 1985, Ellington joined the Navy because he wanted to make a difference. And after a 20-year career in the military, he pursued another avenue of service—teaching. As an AmeriCorps member with Teach for America, Ellington taught in an alternative charter high school in New Orleans, LA.
“For me, being a small part of the education reform movement is highly rewarding,” said Ellington, who now leads Teach For America’s “You Served For America, Now Teach For America” veterans initiative. “I strongly recommend a career in education for any veteran or military spouse who seeks a purposeful occupation. In the end, it’s all about service.”
As Ellington and many other veterans demonstrate, service is an opportunity to enhance your life and the lives of others.
So the next time you pass by a monument in your community or in the nation’s capital, don’t just think about the past. Instead, remember that your story and the story of future generations are reflected in these memorials. They serve as a constant reminder that if we want this great experiment called democracy to endure, we must continue the missions of those who blazed trails before us. We can do this by committing to a life of service.
Bill Basl is the director of AmeriCorps and an AmeriCorps VISTA alum. He is also the co-founder of Service America, a national service program that placed cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with AmeriCorps members to address critical community needs. Bill previously served as the Executive Director of the Washington Commission for National and Community Service where he oversaw AmeriCorps programs in the state. All this month, we are highlighting veterans and military families as part of the AmeriCorps 20th anniversary.