By Jason Patnosh, National Director, Community HealthCorps & Associate Vice President, National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC.)
This week marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and President Barack Obama will be joined by Presidents George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush to celebrate their bipartisan commitment to national service and volunteerism. I have enjoyed being part of this movement for the past 15 years and at the helm of the Community HealthCorps for the past eight. Even prior to joining the Community HealthCorps I volunteered side-by-side with AmeriCorps members in Plainfield, NJ as EMTs on the local rescue squad—supported 100% through AmeriCorps and volunteer efforts at the time.
What many don’t know is that my father ran that AmeriCorps program through New Jersey City University in addition to running a Youth Corps program that helped young African-American and Hispanic men and women from NJ’s northern inner cities attain their GED and work skills. So, you can say AmeriCorps has been in my blood since the beginning, and both my mother and father have instilled a belief that you give back to your community for all they have given you.
The Community HealthCorps is also thrilled to launch its 20th class this year. Started by the National Association of Community Health Centers and a small group of community health centers at eight sites with only about 80 members in 1995, the program has grown to 535 full-time members across 40 sites and over 200 service locations nationwide. To learn more about the program’s impact over the past 20 years click on the image below for an enlarged version of the Community HealthCorps 20th Anniversary poster, featured at NACHC’s 2014 Community Health Institute.
Community HealthCorps has not only become a pipeline for over 7,000 individuals to embark on their careers in health and social services, but its impact has helped millions of Americans improve their access and utilization of health care services. Most recently, the program has committed to improve financial and health insurance literacy of health center patients and has partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to train all of our AmeriCorps members on their new Your Money, Your Goals curriculum to empower individuals in personal financial management.
For the past two years, I have served as co-chair for Voices for National Service and, as we look to our future as part of AmeriCorps, I am hopeful that bipartisanship support will continue to fuel support for this program. This week, Community HealthCorps was featured as part of Voices’ release of “I Will Get Things Done for America—Celebrating 20 Years of AmeriCorps”. Serving one’s country, whether through the military, Peace Corps, or AmeriCorps, should never be a partisan issue.
Finally, AmeriCorps must always remember its roots, “Getting Things Done”. Simple, concise, and directly to the point. The ability to serve one’s community and country does not look at how many degrees someone may have, the color of their skin, who they may love, or how they pray—it is an expectation we should have for all.
A personal hero of mine dating back to when I first did a book report on her in the 5th grade is Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas. She said so many powerful things over her life that ended too soon, but one sticks out to me the most as we look towards the next 20 years of AmeriCorps.
“We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done.”
Community HealthCorps restores the hope every day for someone to lead a healthier life, to gain access to health care for their children, to improve their financial well-being over time, and to recognize they are part of a larger movement to do great things for their community and for America.