From Jeff Griffiths, Executive Director – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:
In the last 6 months, we have celebrated the birthdays of 2 great programs that personify the ethic of giving and service that is connected with America. In September 2014, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and in February 2015 the 50th anniversary of what is now a program of AmeriCorps, VISTA. Both programs have had a profound impact on communities of Northeast Ohio, on the individuals who have served their country and they are a big reason that HandsOn Northeast Ohio has grown to be a force for good through volunteer-led service.
Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s vision for a national service corps, that would “help provide urgently needed services in urban and rural poverty areas”, VISTA was created in 1965 when President Johnson launched his “War on Poverty”. Johnson welcomed the first group of 20 VISTA volunteers saying, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” *http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps-vista/vista-history
In the years following, VISTA has changed to try to address the needs of the moment. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service website, “The 1990s saw a resurgence of national service. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush developed the Commission on National and Community Service. With the signing of the National Community Service Trust Act in 1993, President William Clinton expanded national service to create AmeriCorps, and VISTA became part of AmeriCorps.” The first official AmeriCorps class was launched in September of 1994.
The impact of this service, this pipeline for Americans to give of themselves to better our world includes:
• 7,000: AmeriCorps VISTAs members serve each year.
• 190,000: Number of VISTAs who have served since the program began in 1965.
• Since VISTA was incorporated into AmeriCorps in 1994 more than 90,000 individuals have served as AmeriCorps members.
• 1 billion: Total number of hours served by AmeriCorps members since 1994.
• 25,000: Number of nonprofits, faith-based and community organizations, schools, and other sites that AmeriCorps members serve with annually.
• 4 Million: Number of community volunteers managed or mobilized by AmeriCorps members in 2012.
Our first encounter with AmeriCorps was through members provided by Points of Light whom we are the local affiliate. Our first member was a returned Peace Corps volunteer, Leader with HandsOn Atlanta and coming to us with experience in corporate America so needless to say the bar was set high. Ever since, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that all of the good that HandsOn Northeast Ohio produces is a direct result of the strategy, service, and sacrifice of our AmeriCorps members. Additionally, two of our three staff members are national service and AmeriCorps Alums. These wonderful people helped establish HandsOn programs that support 100+ agencies in four counties addressing hunger, homelessness, education, seniors, animals and more.
The HandsOn AmeriCorps members have allowed us to build and strengthen the relationships that mean everything to our work with agencies partners, Volunteer Leaders and our volunteers. They have also allowed us to leverage resources to take on the Homeless Stand Down, support the Earned Income Tax Coalition and Anton Grdina school. The relationships created through the work of national service build understanding, collaboration, community and family.
So, a toast to you AmeriCorps, VISTA and all of those who choose to serve (either in our armed forces or through national service)!! A special toast this week, AmeriCorps Week!
Also, a special HandsOn high-five to the amazing HandsOn NEO AmeriCorps members Kate, Katie, Molly, Nadia, Jen, Tyler, Stephen, Gene, Keely, Laura, Indira, Katrice, Elena, Stephanie and Kevin.
Thank you for who you are! We are forever grateful for your decision to serve!