Wednesday, June 14, 2017
On a cold morning in February, I drove away from my house in Montana and began a road trip, traversing the middle of the country until I arrived in Jackson, Miss. I was coming here for a service project through the AmeriCorps organization, in which I would be working with students of various ages at Genesis and Light Center.
Along the way, I stopped at a required training in Denver and networked with people across the region who were also working with AmeriCorps. We shared ideas and promised to keep in touch during our months or years of service.
My service with this organization allowed me the opportunity to meet and interact with students who were quite different from any I had taught and mentored in the past. In aspects such as geography, personal experiences, race, religion and social interactions, the students were all new to me, yet I was able to relate my own experiences and perspectives to them, which became shared experiences. I met people at local colleges, attempting to recruit volunteers. I even appeared on TV a couple times, advertising our efforts at Genesis and Light. My time there improved my teaching and job skills, and my understanding of the community and my place within it.
My next project was at another nonprofit organization called SR1 (Scientific Research). While there, I worked with public-school students who needed help in a variety of subject areas. Tutoring and mentoring them after school, along with extracurricular activities such as shark tagging on the Gulf Coast and pregnancy-prevention courses, exposed me to the wide range of opportunities an afterschool program can provide given adequate resources and parental support. The underlying factor behind my life-altering experiences the last four years after moving to Mississippi is the existence of the AmeriCorps program and its reach into the state.
But under the White House's current budget proposal, the AmeriCorps program would cease to exist. The organization operates under the auspices of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the proposed budget cuts CNCS funding. Data from Volunteer Mississippi, which works in conjunction with local AmeriCorps chapters, show 546 members in 11 programs throughout the state in the 2016-2017 program year. Members served in missions ranging from nutrition education to childhood literacy to financial literacy to veteran assistantships to food distribution to community-garden maintenance. The CNCS designated $20.1 million to support Mississippi communties through national services and social-innovation initiatives. Through a public-private partnership, an additional $4.6 million went toward communal improvement and engagement. Dating back to 1994, 15,000 AmeriCorps members from Mississippi served more than 31 million hours and accumulated $58.3 million to help with student-loan repayment and graduate-school investment. Project locations span from Delta State University to the Gulf Coast.
At a time in our nation's history when we desperately need community involvement and a sense of local and national purpose, AmeriCorps is one of the organizations that can provide it. Without this program, students would not have money to repay loans or help with further schooling, while seniors would not develop a renewed belief in their ability to change lives. Without the program, I would not have moved to Mississippi, and therefore, would not have experienced things and met people here and in the region who have changed my perspectives in numerous ways.
Mike McDonald attended the University of Montana. He enjoys listening to rap music, writing short stories and reading books about American history.