Ceremonies around the country Friday marked the 20th birthday of AmeriCorps, the national community service initiative from the Corporation for National and Community Service. At the White House, former president Bill Clinton, who signed the bill authorizing the creation of AmeriCorps, joined President Barack Obama in thanking the organization's participants and expressing hope for its continued contributions to American communities.
"Til my last day on earth, I will be grateful I had a chance to start AmeriCorps," Clinton told a group of AmeriCorps participants and alumni in a message that was streamed online around the country.
In Richmond, Vermont, Melanie Katz, a recent graduate of the University of Vermont, spent Friday afternoon harvesting produce that will be given to needy Vermonters who are hoping to boost their health. "We do have a very high rate of food insecurity," Katz said of the Vermont communities she is serving.
Katz made a full-time commitment this year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. She is focusing on anti-poverty efforts, she said, with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. "It's great to give back to a community I've really felt a part of," Katz told New England Cable News.
Friday, as some 900,000 have before them, Americans all over the country pledged to work with AmeriCorps to better their communities. About 80,000 members join every year. Their pledge concludes with the line "I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done." The well of the Vermont Statehouse erupted in applause and cheers at the conclusion of the pledge.
AmeriCorps has had the support of U.S. presidents from both parties. It has also had critics. Some conservative U.S. House Republicans, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, have said volunteerism should be pro-bono, and not backed by government money, so they wanted the program's budget slashed.
However, on the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, its backers called on Congress to keep funding AmeriCorps, and to make good on promised expansions under the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.
"If we're smart, Congress will fund this calling that's meant so much to so many and keep AmeriCorps strong," President Obama said Friday.
Obama also announced new programs to encourage employers to hire alumni of national community service programs.