Senator Mark Pryor today addressed participants at the Voices for AmeriCorps Rally in Washington D.C. Voices for AmeriCorps is a 4 day event featuring 100 hours of testimony from citizens across the country who have served through
AmeriCorps and who have benefited from their programs.
I am pleased to join you today to voice my strong support for the AmeriCorps program, and share just a glimpse of the tremendous impact this program has had in my state of Arkansas.
I commend you for your unyielding dedication to the AmeriCorps program and for your presence here today.
From our smallest towns to our largest cities, AmeriCorps has made a tangible difference in improving education, public safety and health care needs.
AmeriCorps members are changing lives in our poorest classrooms, after-school programs, camps for at-risk youth and literacy programs for adults. In fact, AmeriCorps members are even working alongside migrant farm workers to teach them about ways to improve their health and quality of life.
We have parents, students, teachers and elected officials at every level declaring that this program is opening doors and empowering individuals more than many government programs have in the past.
And we have Americorps volunteers testifying that this program changed their lives for the better and provided them with a clear vision and mission for their future.
So I share your dismay at why some in Washington would want to dismantle this outstanding program, and I pledge to fight to restore the vital funding to keep AmeriCorps programs strong.
In my state alone, AmeriCorps members are providing:
Tutoring services to more than 1,400 elementary school children
Computer assistance to more than 900 teachers and more than 3,500 students
Mentoring to 330 adults who are moving from welfare to work; and
Assistance to 240 persons with disabilities
I would like to share a few stories of Arkansans who could not be here today.
Sanford Tolette believes that Americorps members are filling a tremendous void in Arkansas because of its purity toward community service, despite the member's financial and personal sacrifices.
He directs the Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp in Little Rock, a residential camp and school for at-risk youth. It was here that Jerray Jordan, a 5th grade counselor, met Manuel from Bates Elementary. Manuel was having behavioral problems at school, resulting in his spending a lot of time in the principal's office or at home. Jerray wanted to show Manuel that thinking before he acted would prove to be a valuable tool in his classroom and in life. He decided to teach Manuel the game of chess, which would further develop his focus, patience, and reinforce thinking prior to acting. Manuel became a serious chess opponent by the time his camp session was over. Upon returning to his regular school, Manuel's teacher and school counselor noted significant behavioral and academic improvement. He even joined the chess club at his school, and continued to do well through the rest of the school year.
I can also tell you about the noteworthy impact of the Smart Start AmeriCorps program in Monticello, Arkansas. AmeriCorps members provide reading and math tutoring services for more than 260 elementary schools in eight counties of Southeast Arkansas. These schools have the highest poverty, unemployment and adult illiteracy rates in the state.
AmeriCorps members' efforts have resulted in significantly higher standardized test scores for the children they serve.
In addition, one of these AmeriCorps members was Kim Burnett, a single mother of two, who was working as a janitor at night and serving as an AmeriCorps member during the day. As a result of her experience as a volunteer, she is pursuing a career as an elementary teacher and is currently enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
Kim told me, "If it weren't for my AmeriCorps experience in the classroom, I would never have known that I wanted to become a teacher."
Never before have young adults expressed such an overwhelming interest in national service. We should embrace this commitment.
Instead, Americorps programs are in trouble. Funding nationally could be cut anywhere from 50 to 95 percent in every state. In my state, this cut would eliminate 177 full-time positions and 10 programs.
If Congress and the Administration do not stand up, dramatic decreases in AmeriCorps positions will be devastating to volunteers and the people who rely on their help.
Unfortunately, these cuts have already hurt some programs in my state, including the Arkansas HIPPY Corps Project. This program has provided early childhood development and educational opportunities to 1,400 families in the past 7 years. HIPPY has had to dismiss 21 AmeriCorps members, cutting its overall services to about 50 percent of the families it once served.
The Senate has acted swiftly to keep these vital programs operating, and I know there are many in the House of Representatives who are fighting for these programs as well. Your presence here today has strengthened their resolve and influence in this fight.
I want to stress, when we talk about national service and the AmeriCorps program, we're not just talking about dollars and cents. We are talking about shaping the future for thousands of kids, like Manuel.
The Pfeifer Camp that I mentioned earlier boasts alumni who include General Wesley Clark, former Commander-in-Chief of NATO forces; and Keith Jackson, former NFL star for the Green Bay Packers and founder of PARK (Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids), a program for older at-risk youth. These programs can and do make a difference.
In the 2002 State of the Union, President Bush called on all Americans to dedicate themselves to community service throughout their lives. Americans are heeding that call and are looking for ways to serve their communities and the country.
We ought to support their efforts, not oppose them.
I remain committed to the AmeriCorps program, the communities it benefits and the volunteers who have dedicated themselves to public service.
And I will work hard in the Senate to maintain adequate funding for this critical program.
Thank you again for your great work with AmeriCorps and for being here today. Keep up the good fight.