2007-05-18 / Community

Weiner Proposes 'GothamCorps'

Representative Anthony Weiner has kicked off the first-ever AmeriCorps Week, a weeklong recruitment event, with a speech at CUNY's Baruch College outlining his vision to attract more young volunteers into city service.

Weiner's proposal builds on the tradition of the PeaceCorps and AmeriCorps by creating "GothamCorps," a new urban division of volunteers that will empower cities to encourage young people into service focused on a single challenge.

Weiner, in front of an audience of Baruch College students and faculty, plus members of Generation Engage, a nonpartisan youth-civic-engagement initiative, and volunteers from City Year New York, spoke about the central challenge of attracting more young people to careers in public service.

In a time of national crisis, Americans have long been expected to sacrifice. During World War II, Americans were asked to collect scrap metal and rubber. During the Cold War citizens were asked to join the Peace Corps. But during the war on terror, the Bush Administration has asked very few Americans to do anything. In a January 2007 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 48% of Americans said the average citizen hasn't been asked to sacrifice.

Weiner called for a new compact between cities and Washington, one that will get more young people interested in community service, ensure that volunteers are addressing the most pressing needs, and most importantly, create an environment where the most commonly asked question of an eighteen year old is, "Where are you going to do your service year?"

New York City has a history of providing youth with an opportunity to give back. Under Mayor Koch, City Volunteer Corps served as model for a domestic peace corps. And after 9/11, City Year New York was founded, which has over 125 volunteers serving each year, completing more than 200,000 hours of service.

During the Clinton Administration, AmeriCorps was created to entice young people to volunteer in their communities in return for a college scholarship and a living stipend. Since 1994, more than 250,000 volunteers have served in a variety of capacities, such as teaching in public schools, building housing and cleaning parks.

This year, President Bush has proposed a budget for AmeriCorps that is $100 million less than was provided in 2004, a 16% reduction.

Weiner's proposal strengthens the AmeriCorps program by creating "GothamCorps," which offers three important improvements:

City Control

The City should have input into how the volunteers are used, rather than the State.

Branding

Rather than spread resources out focusing a little bit on a litany of different challenges, we should brand a legion of volunteers to tackle one single challenge, at the Mayor's discretion.

City Match

AmeriCorps grants should be used to leverage additional local matching grants, so volunteers get a larger scholarship.

How The GothamCorps

Solution Works

Anyone 18-24 years old with a parent who lives in a city, or has graduated from a high school in that city (public, private or parochial), will be offered the following deal.

In exchange for a year of city service, a volunteer will receive:

The Americorps Education Award

Paid for by the federal government, this amounts to $4,725 sent straight to the volunteer's college tuition, or can be used to defer the cost of student loans.

The AmeriCorps Living Stipend

Paid for by the federal government, this amounts to $12,000 per enrollee (in New York City), to help cover living expenses during their year of service, and also includes child care and health insurance.

A second year of free tuition

at a local public college

In New York City, this would amount to $4,000 for CUNY, $4,350 for SUNY, or the lesser of the two in a credit toward a private school. This match is paid for by the City.

In sum, New Yorkers get a legion of 1,400 volunteers, chosen and supervised by the city government, who will receive a quality college education while focusing on solving a single challenge in the City. Participants get two years of tuition at CUNY or SUNY and $12,000 for a single year of city service, and due to the City match, would receive twice as much in tuition assistance as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

Young Americans have always been moved by a spirit of community," said Rep. Weiner. "That ethos is strong in New York City today, and this program will tap the limitless energy of our young citizens."

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