Given economic growth in the United States is still near an all-time low and given the current economic crisis in Nevada, it's not surprising to learn Nevada Volunteers (formerly the Nevada Commission For National & Community Service), will not be included in the governor's budget. The decision will require the commission to seek legislative funding for the next biennium, which is no easy task given that most state budgets are being cut.
This will require state legislators to look long term rather than short term. The cost of losing AmeriCorps in Nevada is far greater than the modest matching funds required to keep the commission operational for the next two years.
The return on investment is $19 in funding for every $1 the state invests.
With a $19 to $1 rate of return and a President-Elect looking to expand AmeriCorps, common sense suggests that the state legislature needs to consider Nevada Volunteers a priority program.
Nevada Volunteers administers AmeriCorps programs in Nevada and works to link community-building organizations with the public and private resources they need. Specifically, with the modest state funding investment of $365,000 over the biennium, the state receives $4.4 million in AmeriCorps programming and $1 million in additional volunteer services.
During the last biennium, Nevada Volunteers administered critical funding for the Great Basin Institute, U.S. Veterans Initiative, Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation, Family Resource Centers of Northeastern Nevada, and the United Way of Southern Nevada, among others. In addition, after successful completion of service, AmeriCorps members earn an education award that can be used to pay for college or graduate school or repay qualified student loans.
The return in service outcomes far exceeds the monetary gain.
As impressive as the return of investment is for the State of Nevada, the direct outcome from 156,518 hours of service from 139 AmeriCorps members and 27,178 hours of community service from more than 4,100 AmeriCorps volunteers delivers badly needed services across the state of Nevada. A few highlights across AmeriCorps funded programs include:
• Collected and distributed more than 59,000 pounds of food and clothing to 21,000 Nevadans.
• Provided domestic violence prevention and intervention to 154 Nevada women and children.
• Provided outreach to 1,300 homeless persons, including veterans (with an 88 percent transition success rate).
• Provided direct educational assistance to approximately 200 at-risk children across the state.
• Built, restored, and maintained more than 96 miles of wilderness trails and 38 miles of natural habitats.
• Removed hazardous fuels from more than 386 acres, creating firebreaks, and planted 7,800 trees.
• Conducted 411 Red Cross first aid/CPR classes for more than 4,800 Nevadans.
It doesn't take someone like me, who has served as a governor-appointed state commissioner for seven years, including executive positions on the board for five years, to see that preserving AmeriCorps is vital to the State of Nevada. To do it, however, the commission will need more than a proclamation. It needs several state legislators to step forward and champion the required state administrative match during the 2009 legislative session.
The only question that remains is which legislators it will be and how long it will take. During the last legislative session when no line item programs were to be funded, last-minute legislation for AmeriCorps passed almost unanimously (42-0 in the assembly and 19-1-1 in the senate, with only a single dissenting vote by then State Senator Ann O’Connell) just before midnight as part of one of the last bills presented.
State legislators learned then how important AmeriCorps is to Nevada after realizing that our state will lose millions in federal and private support. One can only hope our new legislators are wise enough to see that cutting AmeriCorps doesn't save $182,500 per year. On the contrary, it will cost the state almost $4 million per year in lost funding and services.