Opinion | Susan Knopf: AmeriCorps can fix it
For the Record
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a program for young people, that offered them an opportunity to grow up a little before they head to college? Think about the bad stuff we could avoid:
- The wasted time and money spent changing college majors
- Drug abuse
- Sexual assault
Imagine young adults getting out of school with enough experience and knowledge that they could get good paying jobs.
The program exists. It’s not well publicized. One participant told me her high school guidance counselor didn’t even mention it. It’s AmeriCorps.
We met one crew at the weekly community dinner at the Elks Lodge, where we volunteered with the Summit County Democrats.
The crew said the meal was upscale compared to their usual fare. Often it’s drive-thru or something from a can over a campfire. They said they’d been eating a lot of beans.
My husband and I invited the AmeriCorps crew to our house for dinner. By the time we got together, they were winding up their summer contracts in the Rockies.
They shared their stories and experiences working hard for AmeriCorps. Some had worked in urban centers repairing buildings that support community programs.
The crew was rerouting the Maryland Creek connector to the Gore Trail. Other crews, contracted through Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, cleared Eagles Nest/Wildernest Trail, built trail bridges in Mesa Cortina and worked on the Miners Creek Trail in Frisco.
Most of the crew members were headed back to college. A couple were going to continue with new contracts. AmeriCorps participants earn money toward college. It’s not a lot. And the contracts have limited terms.
What if we made it like enlisting in the military? Do two years and get two years of training or education. My dad was in the U.S. Air Force. He used the GI Bill to help pay for college and to buy his first house. The GI bill rewarded veterans for their service. AmeriCorps could follow the same model and create the same opportunities.
For the record, AmeriCorps says it enrolls more than 270,000 individuals. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 4 million students graduated from high school in 2019. What if AmeriCorps served 10 times as many people as it does now? What if it became something most kids do?
Think about the dramatic effect that would have on our country and on the participants. We could grow something we already have and let it solve myriad issues. Remember the Civilian Conservation Corps? We don’t have to limit this to young people. It could be an opportunity for adults, too.
President Joe Biden has proposed everyone get two years of college free. I’d rather see high school graduates serve their country for two years in AmeriCorps or the military and earn two years of college or training.
The AmeriCorps crew we dined with ranged in age from 19-23. All were using AmeriCorps money toward finishing college.
Israel, 19, wants to be a forest ranger. He’s already completed some part-time work in the field. His former supervisor and mentor thinks Israel’s trail work with AmeriCorps will help him move up and distinguish himself as a full-time candidate when he finishes college.
Charles used the program to fulfill a 400-hour college internship requirement. He expects to graduate at the end of the school year. Alison and some others took a break from college and are looking forward to returning. Some have family support, some not so much.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of the program is cultural. I think AmeriCorps can help us heal our country.
When I first met the crew at the Elks Lodge, an amazing array of people sat at the table: Asian, gay, straight, Black, white, male, female. They were from the North, South, East and West. They came from homes of comfort and families who struggle economically.
They said the experience transformed them. They grew. They had clearer ideas about what they want to do to earn their livings, and they have better understandings about people.
One crew chief said it was stressful to be responsible for people 24 hours a day. Amen. Every parent knows that stress!
AmeriCorps is the answer. It provides a way to pay for college or training. It mixes our people. It helps keep immature young people off college campuses, where they often harm themselves and others. It provides world experience that helps participants gain future employment.
Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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