Mr. President, I rise today in support of the pending legislation, S. 277, the Serve America Act. I commend my colleagues Senators Kennedy, Hatch, Mikulski and Enzi for their leadership in crafting a bill that so clearly embodies the spirit of America – to give back to our country and to work together to build a nation that can continue to offer endless opportunity to generations to come.
This bill couldn’t come at a more critical time in our nation’s history. More and more people need help getting-by in this tough economic climate, while more and more of even the most generous among us have less to give.
But that’s what makes this legislation so special – it has nothing to do with status, background, privilege, or circumstance - every American is equal in their ability to give of themselves and their time. And the Serve America Act encourages volunteerism at every stage of life – from students, to full-time workers, to senior citizens.
Throughout American history, the compassion of our people has gotten us through the most difficult of times. That spirit exists today in communities across America, and the Serve America Act taps into the strong desire of Americans to do their part to help our country recover and prosper.
No deed is too small. While the average American may not be able to save struggling banks from financial crisis, they can help a family to weatherize their home so they can save money on their heating and cooling bills, or mentor a child to reach their greatest potential, go to college, and compete in this global economy.
The Serve America Act will usher in a new era of service and civic engagement in our nation, where we can solve our most difficult social challenges by using entrepreneurial spirit to bring out about social change. It will build upon great success stories in volunteerism, such as AmeriCorps, by increasing the numbers of volunteers involved in federal volunteer programs nationwide from 75,000 to 250,000.
It also creates several new volunteer organizations with missions in specific areas of national need, including a Clean Energy Corps. While Congress works to position America as a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency, this group of volunteers will enhance our efforts by encouraging efficiency and conservation measures in communities and neighborhoods. In New Hampshire, I know volunteers stand ready to, for example, make homes more energy efficient, or work to preserve our state’s many parks, trails, and rivers for future generations to enjoy.
As Governor of New Hampshire, I saw first-hand the difference these programs can make. Plus Time New Hampshire provides afterschool programs to vulnerable students who would otherwise go home to empty houses. And New Hampshire’s City Year program has been successful in decreasing the high school drop-out rate.
One young volunteer in New Hampshire, Jennifer Foshey, volunteered at Hampton Academy through the City Year program. During her year of service, she worked with sixth grade boys who were struggling academically and failing most of their classes. Jennifer provided one-on-one academic support, individual mentoring, and encouraged these students to get involved in extra-curricular activities. Because of her hard work, the boys’ grades improved dramatically, and one of them joined the community service after-school club Jennifer ran. He was later quoted in the school paper saying, “There are kids in our neighborhoods that need help, and it’s our job to help them.” There couldn’t be a better testament to the ripple effect programs like City Year have in communities.
I have long been an advocate for national service because I have seen the power of volunteers to help those in need, empower citizens and strengthen communities. As Governor, I was proud to issue an executive order that established the New Hampshire Commission for National and Community Service. It was an honor to be there when the first New Hampshire AmeriCorps volunteers were sworn in almost ten years ago. I am also proud that my state ranks among the top 20 volunteer states and that, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, between 2005 and 2007 over 325,000 New Hampshire volunteers dedicated 38.9 million hours of service each year. The economic contribution of those volunteer hours is estimated to total $759 million each year in New Hampshire alone.
There is no question that the Serve America Act expands opportunities for all Americans to become involved in service in a wide range of areas of need. Today I offer an amendment that will further extend the work of the service corps by offering opportunities for skilled musicians and artists to expand educational opportunity, promote greater community unity, and bridge cultural divides through the use of music and arts engagement.
The Serve America Act is so important to those in New Hampshire and across the country. I am very pleased to cosponsor such an important piece of legislation that invests in new, innovative solutions to our nation’s most persistent social problems and I urge my colleagues to join me in support of the Serve America Act.