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National service: Getting things done for St. Louis

National service: Getting things done for St. Louis

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Few things bring Missourians together like service to their country and community. Whether it’s responding to natural disasters or helping returning veterans, Missourians from all walks of life come together to help their neighbors. Time after time, we see service bridge the divides of race, gender, socioeconomic status and politics to bring citizens together in common purpose. Those of us who occupy the city halls know this because we see this work every day.

Today, more than 5,300 people of all ages and backgrounds are helping meet local needs, strengthen communities and increase civic engagement though national service in Missouri. Each year, approximately 1,000 AmeriCorps members and 4,000 Senior Corps volunteers serve at nearly more than 1,000 sites across the state. While here in the St. Louis area, more than 800 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members are in nearly 200 locations.

Take for example, the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team, one of the most respected ERTs in the country. Its AmeriCorps members serve in teams that have prepared for and responded to disasters across Missouri and the nation. Most recently, they deployed AmeriCorps members and staff to Orlando, Fla., in response to Hurricane Irma, to San Juan Puerto Rico to support the response and recovery of Hurricane Maria, and last month to the small town of Malden, Mo., after a tornado destroyed 10 homes and badly damaged 13 more. The team conducted damage assessments, provided homeowner assistance, and led volunteer and donation management operations.

Joplin-area residents know about this emergency response team and other AmeriCorps organizations well. All of them were there to help in the recovery after the 2011 tornado, arriving immediately and staying for years after.

Another good example is Mission: St. Louis, where their AmeriCorps VISTA program helps organizations build capacity to fight poverty through education, health, building economic opportunities, opioid prevention/recovery and veteran support. One hundred VISTAs served at 26 nonprofits across the greater St. Louis metro area in 2017. They raised more than $666,000 and managed nearly 9,000 volunteers who provided nearly 183,000 hours of service.

Our St. Louis youth benefit greatly from the Oasis Senior Corps RSVP. These tutors foster an environment where reading and language activities spark curiosity and create opportunities to set attainable goals. In 2017, 400 St. Louis Oasis RSVP tutors mentored 650 children, contributing over 30,000 hours in 10 St. Louis area school districts.

These cost-effective, proven programs are made possible by the Corporation for National and Community Service in partnership with state commissions, like our Missouri Community Service Commission, which provide local AmeriCorps State program oversight.

CNCS is a small federal government agency that administers AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. This year, the agency will commit nearly $17 million to support Missouri communities through national service and social innovation initiatives. Through a unique public-private partnership, this investment will leverage an additional $14 million in other resources (for every dollar invested in national service from the federal government, a dollar is matched from business and private philanthropy). A study by economists at Columbia University found that for every dollar invested in national service, there is a $3.95 return to society in terms of higher earnings, increased output and other community benefits.

Yet, as the congressional fiscal year 2019 budget and appropriations process gets underway, the fate of CNCS lies in question. The White House’s budget would provide a small amount of money to support the shutdown of the agency. Under this scenario, it would be eliminated in 2020. The move would undermine the hundreds of nonprofit community and faith-based groups that operate in our city and state.

These service organizations have been under attack before. In 2015 and again in 2017, the agency’s budget — which represents less than 0.03 percent of the federal budget — was in jeopardy. Fortunately, Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and Rep. Billy Long successfully fought to keep the money in the budget.

I once again encourage our elected Missouri congressional delegation to continue their support and help preserve — and expand — AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. In the face of increased community need and a growing number of natural disasters, shutting down these cherished programs would be a blow to St. Louis and communities across the nation.

Lyda Krewson is the mayor of St. Louis.

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