Jonathan Alter is right. The need for a commitment to national service by volunteers is a key strategy in getting our nation back to economic health. Writing in the January 12, 2009 edition of Newsweek, Alter talks about investing in human capital, not just throwing money out in the typical "bailout" spending spree. One way to get things done is to effectively use AmeriCorps, the U.S. program which works with public agencies and non-profits to make a difference in important initiatives such as education and the environment. Other resources are ramping up opportunities. The President is marshaling his vast army of campaign supporters into volunteer efforts that will help in the struggle to improve America and get us back on solid ground.
There are hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, who are ready to tackle our various national problems. Citizen activists who invest a few hours a week can produce incredible tangible accomplishments and should not be overlooked as an economic solution at the local and state levels. Even with the estimated one million charitable organizations across the fifty states, there remains vast untapped human power can be put to achievable tasks…and they are ready to go to work. Each volunteer offers the "gift of time" President Bill Clinton wrote about in his 2007 book "Giving, How Each Of Us Can Change The World." In an earlier era, President Kennedy understood the incredible power of using volunteers in effective programs when he established the Peace Corps in 1961.
There are practical applications for volunteerism that need not be ignored. I chair an affordable housing advisory committee for a local municipality. In a recent report issued to our Town Council, we stressed the need for additional staffers in our Housing and Community Development Department. But with budget deficits and the inability of government to spend more money on municipal jobs, we recommended an AmeriCorps member be used to help supplement the Department staff in the herculean effort to tackle our workforce housing crisis. Just one set of additional hands put to good use may make the difference to our community and its efforts to fend off homelessness for hundreds.
By one measure, more than 70,000 people join AmeriCorps annually. With the new call to activist action by the White House, that number will certainly swell. That's a lot of brain power to put to beneficial use. The bailout, therefore, which seems to morph into something new each day, must also incorporate organizations like AmeriCorps to harness the unlimited power of people who just plain want to help others solve problems. "Bailout," future generations will read, means more than just throwing dollars at different sectors of the economy…it means using all available hands and recognizing sweat equity as a key tool for recovery and progress. This was proven in the Great Depression and in helping emerging nations develop. The same truth holds promise today.