Check out this awesome guest post by Mordy Walfish, Repair the World’s Vice President for Programs, about his recent trip to The White House!
This past Thursday I had the privilege of representing Repair the World at the White House Community Leaders Briefing. During this 2-hour session, convened by The Corps Network, senior members of the Obama Administration articulated how service corps programs create both community and individual impact. We also heard about the current state of President Obama’s Task Force on Expanding National Service.
The greatest highlight of the briefing – aside from the fun juxtaposition of buttoned up senior-professionals and uniform-wearing corp members – was a panel that included four current and past service corps members from around the country. Each of them shared unique and personal stories about how full-time service to their communities has shifted the course of their lives, their world views and their communities. I was particularly gripped by Aisha Dorn, an alum from our Baltimore-based partner Civic Works, who leveraged her service experience to found her own environmental company.
The cynic in me wanted to dismiss some of the briefing as a bunch of empty words and promises. I mean, we know that Americorps is constantly on the chopping block as Congress debates budget cuts. And yet, the idealist in me really felt tremendous energy from the people in all corners of the room. The stories of corps members – just four out of many millions – highlighted the undeniable fact that the culture of service is alive and well in this country.
Meanwhile, there is something special about the pomp and circumstance that comes with visiting The White House and the euphoric feeling that you get from simply being in the building where so many important decisions get made. (Don’t tell Barack, but after the briefing I joined a bunch of corps member to wander through the building and take pictures of ourselves at various podiums!). There was a sense of community among the different service programs – a feeling that we’re all working towards something much bigger than each of our individual programmatic goals.
Repair is currently wrapping up its second year of a full-time service program and this briefing really reinforced how much we all have to learn from each other – and how committed the service community is to helping everyone “get it right.” There was a definitely a sense of plenitude: that more service is better, instead of “back off, service is my territory.”
There is often a debate about who is the ultimate beneficiary of a service program: the individual serving or the community? While this conversation is incredibly generative and important, it was clear yesterday that YES-AND is the only way to describe it.
Corps members respond to national disasters, mentor youth, help build sustainable food systems throughout the country and build the social fabric of communities in ways that are hard to measure. And service programs provide education and job training to young Americans from a variety of economic, educational, and racial backgrounds. In the mind of corps members, these two elements are highly connected. And, as I witnessed in Washington, it is what makes our shared work so impactful.