Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Serving Montana

Montana Conservation Corps

President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps for millions of youth to serve and restore America’s parks and stabilize the economy.

The Going-to-the Sun Road could not have been built without the CCC. CCC served in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. From reforestation to campground development to trail building to fire hazard reduction, the volunteerism of the Corps was at the forefront of service.

Volunteers in Service to America is a war-on-poverty program created under President Lyndon Johnson. VISTA became the domestic version of Sargent Shriver’s Peace Corps as originally envisioned by President John Kennedy.

President George H.W. Bush created the Office of National Service and the Points of Light Foundation to foster volunteering. Bush approved grants to schools to support service-learning through Serve America.

President Bill Clinton enhanced AmeriCorps with bipartisan support. Clinton said, “Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty.”

President George W. Bush urged Americans to devote 4,000 hours to volunteer service in our lifetimes. Bush created the USA Freedom Corps and expanded AmeriCorps.

Montana campuses placed more than a thousand AmeriCorps and VISTA members in communities across the state. These young service members will engage another 5,000 volunteers to assure cost-effective local projects.

AmeriCorps tutors children and cares for elderly. AmeriCorps volunteers clean streets, winterize breezy homes, teach literacy and computers, work on watershed conservation and river restoration and build trails and bridges.

Food Corps works on nutrition, education and food. Members help on farm-to-cafeteria programs for schools. Food Corps members at Flathead Valley Community College work with Kalispell schools to get Montana beef patties, Flathead cherries and local carrots back on the menu.

Food Corps helped put local apples and fresh vegetables into Polson schools. Members tilled school gardens in Somers.

Energy Corps weatherizes homes across Montana, generates wind power at rural schools, and presses biodiesel in Havre.

The Montana Conservation Corps carries the spirit of the original CCC. Roosevelt’s CCC transformed the Lewis and Clark Caverns but closer to home MCC serves just as hard.

Flathead MCC members built raised garden beds at the Columbia Falls Veterans Home and are farmhands at Kalispell’s two community gardens. MCC has been active at Lone Pine State Park, Lawrence Park and Whitefish State Park.

MCC worked with locals to build the Whitefish Trails on the state public lands surrounding the town. Service members worked hours to open the public trails for Whitefish bikers and hikers.

There are more 5,000 Senior Corps members volunteering across Montana helping people.

The Retired Service Volunteer Program serves here in the Flathead. RSVP helps Meals on Wheels get food to elders. RSVP volunteers serve as foster grandparents and work in local food banks.

Colin Powell chaired the committee for Presidents Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and First Lady Nancy Reagan to encourage increased service and volunteerism for America’s youth.

Today’s sputtering economy demands a stronger AmeriCorps of service. AmeriCorps provides an excellent return on investment.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposed a 1 percent increase in youth service funding. The U.S. House called for the outright elimination of AmeriCorps service.

Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus support service. Tester said, “From building homes to educating our kids to strengthening Montana’s infrastructure, these volunteers are essential to communities across our state.”

The Veterans Green Corps provides career development for returned military veterans interested in pursuing employment opportunities with public lands management.

Only in the past couple years has service and volunteerism become wedged in the hyper-partisan politics of Washington, D.C. Firebrand politicians should serve out the portion of the AmeriCorps pledge that states, “Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.”