If Donald Trump wants to make America great again, here’s a tip: Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to helping people become productive citizens.
The president proposes to eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs the highly regarded AmeriCorps (focused on children and young adults) and Senior Corps, a volunteer organization for people ages 55 and up.
Total funding for CNCS is $1 billion per year nationwide, which may seem like a lot, except that it represents just pennies when compared with the total federal budget – just .03 percent, to be exact. And for that investment, it engages nearly 350,000 members across America who help us all. AmeriCorps members teach children in local schools, work with the Red Cross, help build homes for Habitat for Humanity, provide one-on-one support for at-risk kids in schools, and serve their local communities in countless other ways.
Public service is a distinctly American tradition, and cutting these programs seems distinctly un-American. In America, public service is neighbor helping neighbor, all of us helping one another up the ladder.
When it comes to these vitally important programs, saving pennies makes no sense.
In Philadelphia, the proposed cuts would wipe out a host of very effective public service programs that benefit people of all ages.
Here’s just one example: The proposed cuts would virtually eliminate PowerCorpsPHL, a program that helps young adults ages 18-26 reclaim their lives. PowerCorpsPHL is run in partnership with the city and EducationWorks, the non-profit I am privileged to lead. I see firsthand the power of public service in helping young women and men transform their lives.
PowerCorpsPHL members enroll in six months of intensive training that provides the chance to develop job skills and secure meaningful careers. During their enrollment, members partner with the city’s Water and Parks and Recreation departments to tackle such pressing environmental challenges as improving stormwater management, planting trees throughout the city and revitalizing public land.
Their productivity is impressive: The most recent class of 61 PowerCorpsPHL participants – 47 men and 14 women who graduated at the end of March – planted nearly 2,100 trees, shrubs and gardens across Philadelphia, while also collecting 32 tons of recycled materials and removing 12 tons of litter from more than 360 acres of public land. By any measure, this work improves quality of life in our neighborhoods, while providing PowerCorpsPHL members with the skills to improve their own quality of life.
It’s a great bargain: Young people help the city while turning their own lives around. What’s more, following their training, PowerCorpsPHL graduates receive intensive transition support that helps them land jobs or guides them onto a path for post-secondary education or additional public service.
Since its creation in 2013, PowerCorpsPHL has regularly produced graduates who make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. They include young men such as Kalef Jones, a returning citizen who came to the program in 2014 as a way to change his life. Kalef became a rising star at PowerCorpsPHL, serving as an assistant crew leader and later, as a crew leader responsible for running his own 10-member PowerCorps team; and after that, he completed the program’s first-ever internship with the mayor’s office. In 2016, Kalef became the first PowerCorpsPHL alum to be hired as a full-time staff member.
Having turned his life around, Kalef says simply, “I need to lead by example in the most positive way.”
Great advice for us all, from a young man whose success is a shining example of what really makes America great.
Miles Wilson is president and CEO of EducationWorks.