By Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps®
Five years ago, Senators Edward Kennedy (MA) and Orrin Hatch (UT) brought a compelling concept of expanding opportunities for Americans to serve their country through national service programs into realization with the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Signed into law on April 21, 2009 by President Barack Obama, this legislation amended the National and Community Service Act of 1990 in an effort to put a new emphasis on the power and impact of national service as a solution to the nation’s most pressing social needs. Most notably, the act aimed to triple the amount of AmeriCorps members in service by 2017; it also raised the Eli Segal Education Award, created a Summer of Service program incentivizing 6th to 12th graders to serve their communities during the summer, and increased service opportunities for older Americans through Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions.
In celebration of yesterday’s fifth anniversary of this historic legislation, the White House released a letter from President Obama reaffirming the bill’s significance and continued impact:
“Whether assisting communities rebuilding after natural disasters, promoting health and well-being or preserving our precious natural resources, programs support by this law have improved countless lives and made America stronger.”
The President ended his reflection looking to the future, urging the nation to continue working towards Senator Kennedy’s original vision:
“As we mark this anniversary, let us recommit to fulfilling its promise and doing our part to create a brighter tomorrow.”
The Community HealthCorps® has grown alongside the national service movement. National Director, Jason Patnosh, comments on the Anniversary:
“The passage of the Serve America Act made me proud not only as a national service leader but as an American. Five years later, I can say it has made an impact—we have seen the belief in service as a solution spread across other federal agencies, identified innovative new models of social services delivery, and developed new methods to engage volunteers.
I can also say there is much still to do—the growth of AmeriCorps has been stagnant due to budget constraints. Growth is always challenging, and that is what this bill aims to achieve. So while there is still a lot of work to be done, I believe we’re on our way.”
Within the last five years, the rise in awareness and support for national service programs, like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, can be attributed directly to the Serve America Act. As a result, more Americans choose to serve every year, creating new pathways to positive change and a stronger nation.