Graduation Day I remember the most diverse crowd of young people I had ever seen. Hands in the air and confidence in their voices saying, “I will get things done for America - to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier. I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities. Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground. Faced with adversity, I will persevere. I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond. I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done”.
I always felt like I had joined a mindless cult or some sort of kid’s summer camp when we were told to throw up our hands, as if we were all about to start simultaneously princess waving, and read this mantra off a computer screen.
It was not until my final day as an AmeriCorps Member that I understood the significance of the AmeriCorps Pledge. We started out as 300 misfits, unsure what we had all signed up for and walked off a stage ten months later as a unit with pride, purpose and an understanding of our place in this world.
There are some things in life that you cannot put a price tag on. The feeling of a job well done, pride in oneself, the sense of responsibility and the indescribable feeling that fills your body knowing that you helped another person. And the opportunities for young people to experience those feelings? Priceless.
I am sure many already know, as bad news travels fast these days, that President Trump’s latest in his seemingly never ending changes is a list of programs to cut in order to lessen domestic spending. Of the valuable programs on the list was the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is the Federal Agency in charge of AmeriCorps.
I cannot help but see the irony. The irony in taking money from peaceful initiatives fighting the good fight here on American soil and appropriating it for military expansion. I would rather spend money equipping young people with gardening tools than with guns.
Service is service. It is noble and selfless no matter what equipment you carry or whether your life is on the line or not. As a country, if we truly want to be "great again" then we have to understand that one form of service is not more crucial than another.
It is irresponsible to take money from AmeriCorps programs to expand the military. You are essentially saying to other countries and the citizens of this one that taking care of our people and conserving our land’s resources is secondary to the need to defend ourselves and strengthen our borders.
I have wondered what Trump meant by, “Make America great again”. Like any country we have a history of taking what is not ours and oppressing groups of people. What comes to mind when I hear the word “great” is the Greatest Generation. The generation before my parents, the generation that lived, and didn’t live, through World War II. A generation of Rosie the Riveters and soldiers.
Women were in the States rolling up their sleeves and doing what so many thought was impossible. They were building and flying planes, manufacturing bombs, sewing uniforms and whatever they needed to in order help in the war effort. The WWII generation was great because everyone was involved in the cause, the cause of making this country great.
While the Greatest Generation were involved in a war effort, bringing victory to the United States, I believe that if everyone of this generation is to be involved again, we can be a generation greater. Today the war effort is different, it is overseas and it is here at home. We are in combat, but we also have wars on climate change, poverty and illiteracy. And who do we want fighting those battles? Young people. And how can they do that? Programs like AmeriCorps.
These young people, who are a part of the largest demographic this country has, are willing and motivated to dedicate not only their time, but their lives to the betterment of this country. They are registering survivors of natural disasters, building houses, planting trees and working hard at the jobs that no one else wants to do. These are able and willing young people and they may not be out there toting guns, but they’re right here at home making a difference, peacefully.
So, my question has been and will continue to be: aren’t young people worth the investment? Especially young people willing to serve their country right here, in an equally selfless way?
Invest in strengthening national and community service. Invest in the future of this country. Invest in the United States. Let’s set the bar higher and surpass the Greatest Generation.