National news can be jarring. We thrust from one exhausting story to the next. Just this week, we’re trying to make sense of new indictments and what they mean for our country and democracy.
These are crucial conversations, and we need to follow the facts wherever they lead. But we also need to keep our eye on immediate problems facing our communities — and come up with real solutions.
One obvious answer? National service. We should take to heart the wisdom of Fred Rogers’s mother and “look for the helpers.” They are all around us, and it’s easy to join them.
Each year, more than 80,000 Americans engage in an intensive service year through AmeriCorps. These Americans are reframing challenges as opportunities and taking action to make a difference in their communities.
I’ve seen this in my home state of Colorado where more than 2,500 people spend a year serving our local communities through national service programs like AmeriCorps.
Our State Service Commission, Serve Colorado, awards AmeriCorps program grants to organizations statewide that use “people power” to address our most critical community needs. From battling the opioid epidemic, to boosting educational outcomes for our students, to fighting hunger and housing instability — national service programs are working.
This fall, 12 AmeriCorps members will serve with the Colorado AmeriCorps Community Opioid Response Program to reduce the impact of opioid abuse. Meanwhile in Denver, where AmeriCorps members are serving in classrooms with City Year, three out of four schools served by the program have moved up in the city’s school ratings. In the San Luis Valley, members serving with La Puente Home are providing wrap-around services to people experiencing homelessness and helping their food bank network.
National service is a powerful force in times of crisis. Right now, more than 2,200 AmeriCorps members are supporting and rebuilding communities impacted by the recent hurricanes. Here in Colorado, we know all too well what an important role national service plays in disaster recovery. In 2012, during the Waldo Canyon Fire that devastated our state, more than 175 AmeriCorps members responded working with fire crews on the front lines, operating evacuation shelters, and managing volunteers. I personally saw the impact that these members had and will forever be grateful for their service.
But the time to invest in national service is not only when we need it most, but in times of shaping what our future could be.
National service programs not only address critical challenges, but are incredibly cost-effective — saving money for both local communities and taxpayers.
Through a unique public-private partnership, federal investment in national service is matched by private sources to magnify impact and increase return on taxpayer money. For every federal dollar invested in AmeriCorps, more than two dollars is matched by donations and in-kind support from private sources.
National service sees a nearly four to one return on investment to society from things like higher earnings to increased output. That’s incredible for any organization or business.
That’s why we are looking to double our investment in national service in Colorado. Plain and simple, AmeriCorps works — but it requires our investment.
National service doesn’t just strengthen our communities; it reminds us that we are changemakers. In a time when too many try to divide us — left versus right, urban versus rural — national service is exactly what we should be investing in. It’s how we can cut through the noise to make real change.
We all have a role in shaping our future. So let’s pick up a shovel, a book or a clipboard and get to work.
John Hickenlooper is the 42nd governor of Colorado and the former mayor of Denver.