Medina woman who served in Peace Corps says US should continue to fund service programs
I had the opportunity in March to meet with Congressman Chris Collins and aides from Senators Gillibrand and Schumers’ offices in our nation’s capital. I shared with them a bit about my experience in the Peace Corps in Mali, and asked them to continue to support service programs in the upcoming budget process.
After college, I spent two years living in a town in Mali, West Africa. I worked closely with the local health center staff to raise awareness about maternal and child health. I organized two large events to improve HIV/AIDS awareness, started a girls’ group, and helped secure funding to build a well.
I collaborated with an American-based non-profit that did medical missions to repair facial deformities like cleft lips. I became a part of the community, forging friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. National service is humbling. I left with the feeling that I had been given more than I could ever reciprocate. And that hunger has driven me – and many others – to continue to serve. I believe that now more than ever, we need to make a paid service year accessible for all Americans.
As much as we need people to serve and protect us in the armed forces, it isn’t for everyone. The Defense Department estimates that 71% of the roughly 34 million 17-24 year olds in the U.S. would fail to qualify to enlist in the military if they wanted to serve. General McChrystal, a committed advocate of national service, has said, “A system of voluntary universal national service is an opportunity to shape Americans today so we can solve big national problems tomorrow. I believe that the next step in the American experiment is the expectation of a year or more of service.”
In New York state, there are over 5,200 AmeriCorps members serving every year. They work to close critical gaps, fight poverty, and provide much-needed services to communities across the state. In Orleans County, last year AmeriCorps members taught children and adults about improving their health through better nutrition.
I hope that with increased funding, Orleans County can have more locals serving. This would provide people of all ages with the opportunity to build valuable skills while serving their communities, and cement in them a lifelong commitment to making their communities stronger. For young people, this could be a way to get valuable work experience after completing high school or college. It could help middle-aged people segue to new careers or give individuals in retirement a renewed sense of purpose.
A service year doesn’t just benefit those who are served — it transforms the individuals who serve, deepening their commitment to help others. They become more active citizens, doing community service or working in public service.
Service year opportunities are necessary for a strong democracy. National service programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and YouthBuild should be expanded, not eliminated. Please join me in asking our elected officials to protect national service in the upcoming budget and create more opportunities for Western New Yorkers to serve our country.
Amanda Joy Misiti