If Congress kills AmeriCorps, it will kill the American Dream for so many

AmeriCorps volunteers attend a ceremony at the White House in 2014.
AmeriCorps volunteers attend a ceremony at the White House in 2014. AP

The current budget proposed by the White House eliminates AmeriCorps — a vital program helping the nation’s most vulnerable youth — by cutting all funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service. This would be the wrong decision for our community, and our country.

Every day, almost 200 young adults in Miami put on red jackets and serve in some of our highest need schools. They are driven by their commitment to a cause greater than themselves. Supported by a small living stipend, these young leaders work tirelessly from before the first school bell rings to after the last student leaves the building, providing support to students in and outside the classroom. Partnering with teachers, they identify and work with students to improve the ABCs —attendance, behavior, and course performance in math and English. Their goals is to ensure these students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary opportunities.

These leaders, clad in red jackets, are members of City Year Miami, an AmeriCorps program that changes lives — both of those who serve and those who are served.

Through the close relationships they build with students, City Year AmeriCorps members often are the first to learn about the stress that children experience outside of school, whether it is coming to class hungry or witnessing violence in their neighborhood. It’s no surprise that the trauma our children face outside school walls lingers and shows up through behavior within school walls. That’s where City Year comes in, providing students a steady presence of support and partnering with transformational local leaders, such as Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, to help them achieve their vision of excellence for their schools.

This year, City Year Miami AmeriCorps members are serving 10,000 students in 17 schools in Miami-Dade. They join the ranks of 3,000 City Year AmeriCorps members across the country who serve in 313 high-need schools to improve outcomes for more than 200,000 students.

City Year is one of many game-changing AmeriCorps programs. In addition to providing more than 80,000 Americans the opportunity to serve their country and local communities annually, AmeriCorps creates a pipeline of leaders and pathways to careers. Furthermore, upon completion of a year of service, participants earn an education award of almost $6,000, totaling $1.1 million per year for City Year alumni in Miami alone.

AmeriCorps helps young people pay for college, develops their sense of civic consciousness, prepares them for the workforce, and provides meaningful employment to the unemployed. It is the most successful federal investment of this generation, a model public-private partnership with strong support from across the political spectrum.

AmeriCorps makes fiscal sense. For every dollar invested in national service, there is a return to society of almost $4 through higher earnings, increased output, and other community-wide benefits. AmeriCorps requires a match for each federal dollar invested with private sector or philanthropic funds. AmeriCorps itself makes up less than .01 percent of the federal budget. Clearly, its programs are not a driver of the federal deficit; in fact, they deliver cost-effective services that often alleviate tensions on other community infrastructure.

AmeriCorps members are making America great, and they have been doing so for decades. But this isn’t about saving another federally funded program. This is about defending the core values of civic duty, self-reliance, and patriotism that have always defined our country. AmeriCorps provides a platform for ordinary citizens to honor the American dream by helping others — and themselves —achieve it.

When I look into the eyes of our City Year members, I see the best of what our country can be: young people working in partnership — across race, ethnicity, class, religion — to make magic happen. I see grit, persistence, and a willingness to push for big goals in the face of huge odds that would rival any generation in American history.

While the budget process is long and, ultimately, Congress will decide what is funded, programs like AmeriCorps should not be up for debate. It helps leverage our greatest asset — “people power” —to ensure everyone can reach their potential.

Whether one sees this as a moral obligation or pragmatic imperative for the security of our collective future, AmeriCorps must remain.

Keith “Fletch” Fletcher is executive director and vice president of City Year Miami.