LETTER: Don’t Cut AmeriCorps

By Beacon Staff

I have been a participant in AmeriCorps, a federal program administered through the Corporation for National and Community Service, for the past three years. I’m grateful for the experience of AmeriCorps in my life. I feel that college gave me the skills to think, and AmeriCorps gave me the skills to act. This is an assiduous combination. It serves me well now in my personal and professional relationships. I am a better person, a more measured thinker and a more effective leader.

So of course it came as a great shock to me that House Republicans are proposing budget cuts that will do away with what I believe to be the true engine for change in this country – AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is breathtaking in its scope. You can find an AmeriCorps member in every state, in the largest cities and the smallest outcroppings. You can find them in a wilderness, in a school, in a park, in a courtroom. Every place that you have been in this country has likely been touched in some way by an AmeriCorps member.

The symbiotic relationship of an AmeriCorps member to their community is an inspiring one. An AmeriCorps member develops as they help develop the community. Learning to inspire change in many people starts with change in one person. Doing away with ego, judgment, or presumption; stripping away preconceived notions; learning how to embrace and be embraced in a community – all of these are important lessons to an AmeriCorps member. You must find the courage to be selfless – to wake up each morning, for other people, for little pay, for the simple act of doing good. People in AmeriCorps discover meaning in things that may not be tangible, but these things are the driving force of good in this world.

And, in turn, the community finds a new friend, and a new ally. An ally to an abused parent seeking custody of their child. An ally to an overgrown trail, needing to simply be lopped. An ally to an understaffed school in need of an extra hand. An ally to a child who wants to learn how to cultivate a garden. The list goes on and on.

During my two terms as an AmeriCorps state member in Montana, I personally planted close to 4,000 trees, contributed to the construction of nine backcountry wilderness structures, weatherized 75 Montana homes, sat down to coffee in almost as many of those homes. As an Montana AmeriCorps VISTA, I raised $500 in food supplies and $200 in personal hygiene supplies for my local homeless shelter. I developed a blog to unite civil legal aid resources for underserved Montanans, and brought media attention to the cause of civil representation for those who cannot otherwise afford it. I am just one person. There are currently 1,300 AmeriCorps members serving in Montana alone. For a relatively small percentage of the federal budget, that is a huge contribution to the lives of many Americans.

AmeriCorps is an outstanding program, which represents the commitment to civil service that American democracy embodies. Please encourage Congressman Denny Rehberg to sustain this program for this community, this state, and this country.

Zoe Zulakis