House Votes To Expand National Service Programs
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
It's been a tough time for nonprofit organizations around the country. The lousy economy means tighter budgets and scarcer resources. For some groups, though, relief does appear to be on the way in the form of more helping hands. Yesterday the House passed legislation that would more than triple the number of AmeriCorps volunteers and create other opportunities for national service. And the Senate is expected to do the same. To find out what that might mean for volunteer groups, we turn to Eric Schwarz, co-founder of the Boston based group, Citizen Schools. Welcome to the program.
Mr. ERIC SCHWARTZ (Co-founder, Citizen Schools): Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And tell me a little bit about what Citizen Schools does.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, we partner with school districts in 20 cities across the country to dramatically expand the learning day and then fill it with interesting activities. Led both by AmeriCorps members, recent college graduates, who tutor kids and help them with their homework and academics. As well as what we call Citizen Teachers, who are scientists, and chefs and web designers who work with kids to do real-world learning around real-world projects and raise their sights and lift their aspirations. And we now have increasingly good evidence that Citizen Schools drives up the graduation rates of our participants dramatically.
BLOCK: And how many people, all told, you have doing that kind of work?
Mr. SCHWARZ: We have about 3,000 Citizen Teachers and several hundred of our full-time teaching fellows working with 44 schools to expand the learning day.
BLOCK: Well, if this national service bill does make it through Congress, and we know it's a priority of President Obama, how would that change the work you do?
Mr. SCHWARZ: Well, it would, I think, allow us to grow in a couple of different ways. First, the tripling of the size of AmeriCorps, the creation of an education core would create more opportunities for our Citizen Schools, as well as for Teach For America, Jumpstart, Experience Corps, City or in others, to hire more recent college graduates, in our case, who can begin their careers in education.
Second, there's an important volunteer mobilization part of this bill, both the Senate bill and the House bill, which would allow organizations like ours to mobilize thousands and thousands, millions, ultimately, across the country of volunteers who might work a couple hours a week as tutors, as mentors. In our case, many of those folks are scientists who can work with kids and do project-based learning to bring science alive and lift the kids' skills.
BLOCK: You know, I've seen some reports that volunteer groups, maybe such as your own, have been seeing an influx of people trying to help, maybe it's people who unexpectedly have some time on their hands 'cause they've lost their jobs. But that there actually is sort of a new resurgence of volunteers looking to do this kind of work.
Mr. SCHWARZ: There's a huge increase. We've seen a doubling of the number of young college seniors applying to be teaching fellows with us, some other organizations have seen similar gains or even tripling of the applications to join their organizations.
And then just among the Citizens who want to serve, some of whom may have been laid off, but others of whom are working full time, they're enjoying their jobs, but they want more meaning in their lives. They want to give back, and they want to strengthen the country, strengthen their communities, and they see service as a great way to do that.
BLOCK: If you're seeing that resurgence happening anyway, would there be an argument to say, you know, maybe we don't need this national service bill, it's happening on its own.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Well, I think what national service does is it helps to build upon the natural impulse of the American people to serve. But volunteers aren't free. If you want to turn the volunteer impulse and urge that exists in all Americans, if you want to turn that into actually solving problems, if you want to mobilize volunteers in a way where we can actually reduce the high school dropout rate dramatically, increase economic opportunity, help prepare young children to be ready to enter first grade, ready to learn and ready to read - turning volunteers into those real results takes capacity, takes resources, takes some full-time people in national service to mobilize, and support and train the part-time folks and the actual true volunteers.
I think national service can be a big part of solving problems in America, big part of expanding the learning day in a dramatic way, in a way that lifts the high school graduation rate, lifts the college-going rates for kids across the country and really makes the country stronger than ever before.
BLOCK: Well, Eric Schwarz, it's good to talk to you, thanks.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Great to talk with you as well. Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: Eric Schwarz is co-founder of the Boston based group Citizen Schools.
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