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National service program too valuable for Greenville County to lose

Last week, United Way of Greenville County joined the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in celebrating AmeriCorps Week—an effort to honor and thank the men and women who commit a year or more of their lives to national service through AmeriCorps, VISTA and Senior Corps.

The celebration was a great reminder of the amazing impact this program is having in Greenville County and across the Upstate, and why it’s so important we continue to support its funding at the national level.

For the past eight years, United Way of Greenville County has been proud to receive a CNCS grant to operate AmeriCorps Upstate. This local program of the national AmeriCorps initiative oversees the recruitment, training and management of 31 AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members serving at 21 partner sites across the Upstate. Their service is focused on fighting poverty through financial stability—a central piece of United Way of Greenville County’s work to build a Cycle of Success for all in our community.

The real-world difference these members are making in our community is impressive. As of last week, members had served 30,710 hours—an estimated value of $776,776 to our partners—since their service year began last August. These valuable service hours build the capacity of our nonprofit partners at places like Goodwill in Berea and Simpsonville, Greer Relief, United Ministries, Greenville Literacy Association, Mill Community Ministries, Upstate Warrior Solution and more, enabling these agencies to help more people for less money.

Our members are also critical drivers behind the success of United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program as all members are IRS trained and certified to provide free income tax preparation. AmeriCorps members alone (not counting the hundreds of community volunteers) helped save local taxpayers more than $210,000 in tax prep fees through their VITA service.

In return for their service, AmeriCorps members receive only a modest living stipend and an educational award of $5,815 toward tuition or school loans. It’s a tough year filled with sacrifice, paid back in experience, education, leadership development and the altruistic reward of making a difference for people in need.

For United Way of Greenville County and communities around the nation where members serve, the program represents a great value with a tremendous return on investment.

In the 2016-17 service year, our AmeriCorps Upstate program received $329,906 in funding from CNCS, which covered more than half of the total cost of the program at $578,000. For that investment, thousands of people in our community became more financially stable thanks to financial literacy, job training, workforce skill development and other services provided by our members.

According to a 2013 study by economists at Columbia University, every dollar invested in national service generates almost $4 in returns to society via higher earnings, increased productivity and other community benefits.

Unfortunately, the CNCS and our vital AmeriCorps and VISTA programs are once again on the chopping block.

In February, the White House submitted its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 and for the second year in a row, the administration’s budget proposal eliminates the AmeriCorps, VISTA and Senior Corps programs while all but completely defunding CNCS. We can’t let this happen. 

Funding for AmeriCorps was sustained last year thanks to bipartisan support, so today we ask you to join us in asking our members of Congress to once again stand behind these impactful programs and save funding for CNCS.  Click here to contact your representatives.

Our AmeriCorps members are diverse in age, ethnicity, race and life experience, but all share an inspiring—even patriotic—commitment to give back to their country at the grassroots, local level. We owe it to them, and our community, to do all we can to make sure they continue to have that opportunity.

Meghan Barp is president and CEO of United Way of Greenville County.