Next Step is a relatively young social enterprise. Born in eastern Kentucky, where manufactured homes are a significant portion of the residential housing stock, we moved to Louisville in 2010 to scale our strategy nationally, with the mission of putting homeownership within reach of everyone. Today, we have nine team members, more than fifty national nonprofit partners, and serve homeowners and communities in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
Over the years, Next Step has had the privilege of participating in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, a national service program – administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) – that helps nonprofits increase capacity to deliver programs and services at critical times. Five AmeriCorps VISTAs have served at Next Step since 2010, and two of us transitioned to full-time employment at Next Step after our service term was complete. The flexibility of AmeriCorps service members to perform varied duties – combined with the low cost to utilize their skills – is the perfect recipe for a high return on investment for nonprofits. As a result, programs like AmeriCorps enable nonprofits to better provide services and meet the needs of their communities.
The Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate CNCS – along with the AmeriCorps, VISTA and SeniorCorps programs – striking a massive blow to community service across the country. Defunding CNCS is not only detrimental to communities and mission-driven organizations, but to the tens of thousands Americans who choose to serve their communities every year through these programs.
AmeriCorps, VISTA and SeniorCorps all open doors for those seeking to build professional skills, advance their careers or find their first full-time job – a struggle for many new college graduates. A term of service provides an unmatched opportunity to get a taste for nonprofit work, while an organization gets a year to decide whether to bring on their service member as an employee. In a survey of AmeriCorps alumni, eight out of 10 alumni said that AmeriCorps benefited and advanced their career path. A significant number of AmeriCorps members transition to full-time employees at their service site after their term of service, and many members find work through a connection made during their service term.
In addition to career advancement, AmeriCorps and similar service programs open pathways for civic engagement. Since 1994, more than 1 million individuals have served as AmeriCorps service members – performing 1.4 billion hours of service and leveraging $1 billion in resources every year. It also opens avenues for young people to broaden their horizons – particularly those growing up in lower income rural and urban areas – and affect meaningful change in their communities. By participating in these programs, many these individuals build relationships and friendships that positively impact them throughout their lifetimes
Service members in CNCS programs have served with dozens of nonprofit housing organizations across the country. As the affordable housing crisis deepens, the work that these nonprofits do is vital, and the capacity offered by participation in service programs like AmeriCorps is critical for many of these organizations. During their term of service with Next Step, AmeriCorps VISTAs have developed and implemented fundraising, communications, outreach and training programs for our organization, helping more homebuyers and homeowners gain access to services like education and counseling that help build sustainable homeownership.
Next Step – and so many other housing nonprofits across the country – greatly benefit from the VISTA program’s goal to alleviate poverty, as affordable homeownership that is within reach for families is one of the keys to reducing poverty. Stable housing is definitively linked to better health, higher educational achievement, lowered crime rates, financial stability, and increased community and civic participation. It keeps families together and children out of the welfare system, and it reduces the rates of domestic violence and alcohol dependence. Taking away access to these community service programs robs additional families of a brighter future.
Defunding CNCS, as Trump proposes to do in his budget, would damage mission-driven organizations nationwide. Nonprofits already facing funding struggles will have less capacity to provide critical services, and graduates seeking to advance their careers through national service will have fewer opportunities. The impact of service programs like AmeriCorps on the communities they serve, as well as on those members in service, is more than worth our time and money.