Wednesday
Sep 03
2014
September 3, 2014

Billie Ann Myers

Former Director, Arkansas Division of Volunteerism, Arkansas Department of Human Services; Founding Volunteer, Clinton Presidential Center

National Service is Rooted in Arkansas

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It is appropriate that the roots of AmeriCorps were planted in Arkansas during President Clinton’s tenure as governor. He supported and built upon President George H.W. Bush’s interest in national service, and created the organization that would make it possible for young people to serve their country.
 
I felt like there were many people who had the desire to serve their country, but who were looking for different avenues that used their unique skill sets.
 
I was the director of the Office of Volunteerism at the Arkansas Department of Human Services for then-Governor Clinton when President Bush was considering service as a national movement. When thinking about how we should approach an organization that promotes national service, I wanted it to be considered as an alternative to military service. I felt like there were many people who had the desire to serve their country, but who were looking for different avenues that used their unique skill sets.
 
Governor Clinton wanted the state of Arkansas to apply for one of ten grants that would fund service projects as pilot programs for a national model. Working with the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, we formed the Delta Service Corps, which includes tutoring children and youth in school; providing after-school enrichment; teaching adult literacy; increasing the use of computer technology; teaching parenting skills; providing food and shelter to families; and conducting health programs for the elderly and community residents. Arkansas became the model of a national office within this program, as we had the staff power that would allow us to focus primarily on this project.
 
Our hope was that our program would be a beneficial guide for the national plan for service. Our rural design was ultimately the inspiration for AmeriCorps because the Delta Service Corps was a program that could be utilized in any part of the country, not just urban areas.
 
Of the ten grants that were given, the two that have survived the test of time were City Year and the Delta Service Corps. City Year was the more metropolitan model and focused on the young, while Delta Service Corps was focused on rural service and intergenerational. Our hope was that our program would be a beneficial guide for the national plan for service. Our rural design was ultimately the inspiration for AmeriCorps because the Delta Service Corps was a program that could be utilized in any part of the country, not just urban areas. My time in the Office of Volunteerism, and specifically with the Delta Service Corps, was one of the most fulfilling times of my life. Our experience proved that citizens of all ages want to serve their country, and with the education award, these corps members have the means to create a better future for themselves in return.
 
Since 1994, more than 8,000 Arkansas residents have served more than 13 million hours... 
 
Since 1994, more than 8,000 Arkansas residents have served more than 13 million hours and have qualified for Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards totaling more than $24,340,000. I am thankful that in the last 10 years that includes a City Year team in the Little Rock Metropolitan area. My hope is that all young people will take this opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps; it is an experience that will instill the passion of service and will allow for a more educated future. 
 
Leading up to AmeriCorps' 20th anniversary on September 12, 2014, we will be featuring stories of service – from those who helped bring AmeriCorps to life 20 years ago, to individuals who have taken the AmeriCorps pledge and dedicated their lives to creating positive change in their communities. Follow stories of service on our blog.