Theodore Roosevelt, one of 31 presidents who served in uniform, said: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” He believed everyone had a duty to serve their country, if they were able.
Now, America’s need for national service is as great as it has ever been. So is the opportunity to serve.
Everyone has their own reason for putting on the uniform. For one of us, it was her path out of poverty. For the other, it was a military heritage from his father. We both had the privilege of leading Americans from vastly different backgrounds overseas.
What we all had in common was a sense of duty, of knowing that service gives us purpose and unites us, across age, race, gender and religion, in a deep appreciation for our country.
That is why we — and our fellow veterans and veteran organizations such as With Honor — believe that all Americans should have the opportunity to serve, at home or abroad, with the military or with the national service agency AmeriCorps.
And lawmakers agree. A bipartisan coalition in Congress, led by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., have championed the cause, outlining bold visions for AmeriCorps at a moment when the nation needs it most.
National service is one of the increasingly rare policy items with support across political lines. Voices for National Service and With Honor found that an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican voters across the country support expanding voluntary national service.
We saw this with our own service in the military. There are no political parties in a foxhole.
National service is worthy investment
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 codifies that national service not only unites Americans but is also a worthwhile investment in the country’s future, returning $17 for each federal dollar spent.
Now more Americans than ever will have the opportunity to serve at home. This historic legislation provides an additional $1 billion to help communities respond to, and recover from, the effects of COVID-19. The funding will make service more accessible and inclusive, by increasing the living allowance for those who serve, stabilizing and expanding existing national service programs, and increasing the opportunities for people from diverse communities to serve.
Volunteers provide COVID-19 relief
At this moment, tens of thousands of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors members are showing up and getting things done. They are getting vaccines distributed, getting veterans to medical appointments and getting families access to healthy food.
More than 270,000 Americans, in over 40,000 locations, partnering with nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and state and local governments, are developing unique solutions to the challenges COVID-19 has left on their doorsteps.
The growth of AmeriCorps, thanks to additional funding provided by the American Rescue Plan, paves the way for us to build back better, in both urban and rural communities across the country, laying the foundation for a culture of national service.
However, creating the opportunity to serve is only half the battle. More Americans must answer the call.
Wherever you are at this moment, you can help. Spread the word about these new opportunities to serve and, if you are in a position to do so, join us.
Sign up and pledge to get things done. Put on the AmeriCorps uniform and do what you can where you are. To learn more about service opportunities through AmeriCorps programs, visit: www.americorps.gov.
Mary Tobin is a U.S. Army veteran and senior adviser for Wounded Warrior, Veteran, and Military Family Initiatives at AmeriCorps. Rye Barcott is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and co-founder and CEO of WithHonor.org.