Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog
- Posted byon March 13, 2012 at 6:02 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is commemorating AmeriCorps Week to celebrate the remarkable individuals who have served and their contributions to our country. This blog post introduces readers to Rhonda Ulmer, who works to educate parents so they can better help their students.
I began my AmeriCorps journey when I was recruited into the program by the Community Action Agency in Annapolis, MD. My first job was to create a mentoring system for families of Head Start students. The next year, I continued serving in the program by training others in mentoring as a regional coordinator, and I returned for a third year with AmeriCorps to lead the program as a state coordinator with Volunteer Maryland.
After my term ended, I began working at Johns Hopkins Health Care LLC, first as a Community Relations Coordinator and later as a Community Health Educator. But soon I would receive a call that would put me on another path. My children’s school, Van Bokkelen Elementary in Severn, MD, was in danger of a State takeover due to poor test performance and high student population turnover.
A Parent Helping Parents
Upon hearing about the school’s difficulties, I went to Rose Tasker, the Principal, and asked what I could do to help. She told me that challenges with parental involvement at the school were a major part of the problem. I found that not only were many of the children struggling, but that the parents were too. Many had a hard time supplying daily needs such as food, health care, and clothing for their families.
When I learned this, I took a bigger role with the school’s PTA and began developing a strategy to improve the involvement of other parents. In doing so, I took everything I learned from AmeriCorps: first you get a plan, and then you find the key players involved. Throughout the project, I drew from the experiences of my first year of AmeriCorps service.
- Posted byon March 12, 2012 at 4:02 PM EST
National service is one of America’s most hallowed traditions. As Alexis De Tocqueville noted in 1835, we are a nation of joiners. Ours is a country where people take collective action for the good of all.
Since the early 1900s, government has created conditions that make it easier for people to join and give back. For example, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s that put people to work and contributed to “future national wealth.” President Kennedy called on young people to serve, domestically through VISTA and internationally through the Peace Corps. In 1994, President Clinton created AmeriCorps to bring together disparate national service opportunities and to scale our ability to strengthen communities through civic participation. Today, AmeriCorps is our nation’s most expansive service program.
Since its founding, more than 706,000 men and women have joined AmeriCorps and pledged to “get things done for America.” Across the nation, AmeriCorps service members have demonstrated commitment to strengthening our communities by joining programs such as Teach for America, City Year, Habitat for Humanity, Public Allies, and Youth Build. All of these are AmeriCorps initiatives. The selfless and caring citizens that join AmeriCorps confirm the adage that tomorrow can be better than today if we each extend a helping hand to our neighbors.
The President’s Budget and Charitable Contributions: Driving Revenue and Demonstrating Fairness to Benefit AmericaPosted byon February 16, 2012 at 4:40 PM EST
Earlier this week, President Obama sent to Congress his budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year. It is a bold proposal that demonstrates the President’s commitment to create an American economy that is built to last, one where job creation flourishes as a result of strategic investments to support entrepreneurship, infrastructure, and innovation–and one in which we restore fiscal responsibility and put the Budget on a sustainable path. As we move forward to boost the economy and to strengthen our communities, nonprofit organizations have a vital role to play.
Reflecting the Importance of Charitable Giving Through Fundamental Tax Reform
The President has called for fundamental reforms that would cut rates and tax complexity, cut unnecessary tax expenditures, cut the deficit, and observe the Buffett rule—that no one making more than $1 million should pay less as a share of their income in taxes than middle class families.
This will require tough choices. But as we make those tough choices, the Administration recognizes the importance of tax incentives for charity.
That’s why we chose to make clear that the Buffett Rule should not disadvantage individuals who make large contributions to charity, while exempting charitable deductions from the list of tax breaks that should be eliminated for millionaires. In doing so, the charitable deduction is the only major tax benefit exempted from both of these two proposals we put forward as part of tax reform.
Targeted Reduction in the Value of Deductions and Exclusions as Part of a Balanced Framework of Deficit Reduction
Even as the President has put forward principles for comprehensive tax reform, his Budget also includes a set of specific proposals as part of a down payment towards a balanced deficit reduction plan. One of the ideas we’ve put forward as part of that down payment is limiting itemized deductions for the highest-income earners.
- Posted byon February 1, 2012 at 1:05 PM EST
Eight months ago, one of the deadliest tornados in U.S. history touched down in Joplin, Missouri, and took the lives of more than 160 residents and destroyed thousands of homes. The federal response began immediately. Within hours, Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were on the ground to work hand in hand with state and local officials to assist in response and recovery. AmeriCorps members also raced to the scene as well. Members from AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) arrived in Joplin, and immediately began working with local authorities to assist in search and rescue.
Yesterday, the Missouri House of Representative passed a bipartisan resolution honoring the more than 300 AmeriCorps members from across the country who have played an indispensable role in helping the cities of Joplin and Duquesne recover. They provided homeowner assistance and casework, helped clear debris, and provided support to the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Joplin Police Department with missing person inquiries.
But these AmeriCorps members were certainly not alone. More than 60,000 volunteers ranging from average citizens who wanted to help to active duty military to faith-based groups from across the country have been an indispensable source of support for the people of Joplin. Managed and supported by AmeriCorps members, these volunteers have provided more than 579,000 hours of service and contributed to $17.7 million of donated resources to more than 2,000 households.
- Posted byon January 16, 2012 at 3:40 PM EST
Monuments are built to those who change the course of history. It is right and fitting that a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. now stands in the heart of our nation’s Capital. Even as we renew our understanding of Dr. King’s legacy by visiting this beautiful monument; we can honor the legacy of Dr. King by following his example, by serving and volunteering in our communities.
Dr. King called service the “new definition of greatness.” He believed that the work we undertake on behalf of others is the most important work of all. He devoted his life to this notion – advancing equality, social justice and economic opportunity for all Americans. Dr. King challenged all of us to do our part to build a more perfect union.
That is why, for nearly two decades, the nation has marked the life of Dr. King with a national Day of Service. Today, Americans from every state will deliver meals, refurbish schools and community centers, collect food and clothing, sign up mentors, support veterans and military families, and more. Thousands of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members will lend a hand to community-based projects. Individuals and groups, of all ages and backgrounds, will come together – as Dr. King would have wanted – in service.
- Posted byon June 16, 2011 at 1:01 PM EST
Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
Last week, we gathered fourteen inspirational citizens to hear about their tireless efforts to renew and strengthen their communities through service and innovation. We met in New Orleans, the host city for the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, an annual convening of over 4,000 people working to make a difference in the lives of others. President Barack Obama has called New Orleans a “symbol of resilience and community”—and what better place to highlight these Champions of Change than the Crescent City and the living laboratory for social innovation and civic participation that it has become.
Each of this week’s Champions exemplifies our Administration’s firm belief that the best ideas really do come from outside of Washington—from local communities across the country where, everyday, individuals are taking on our most pressing social challenges and developing solutions that work. From a twelve-year old environmental activist to established and highly regarded non-profit leaders, these Champions are making an extraordinary impact in communities, in schools, and in the workplace. They are building homes, creating opportunities for young people, veterans, and immigrants, and helping disaster victims rebuild their lives. Through their actions, they demonstrate that citizen leadership is critical to “winning the future.” They are redefining civic participation in the 21st century.
Our Administration is investing in these community solutions. Many of the Champions of Change are recipients of Social Innovation Fund grants—YouthBuild USA, the Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative, and iMentor—and we are so excited by the work that they are doing on the ground. Others are partnering with national service programs like VISTA and AmeriCorps, and delivering critical services to help communities recover and rebuild from disasters and to support the reintegration of veterans in our society—Equal Justice Works, Alabama State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, and the Washington Commission for National and Community Service.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the St. Bernard Project. This New Orleans non-profit has drawn volunteers from across the country to rebuild hundreds of homes throughout St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s been quite an extraordinary example of “shared responsibility” and the possibilities that can come from citizens pulling together around a common goal. The President once noted that he saw in the St. Bernard Project “the symbol that this city has become.” And, indeed, the work of each of these Champions has such resonance.
Please visit the Champions of Change website to learn more about these individuals and their work. We hope these Champions and their causes will inspire and energize you to make a difference in your own communities, and, by doing so, to win the future.
Marta Urquilla is the Senior Policy Advisor to the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.
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