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National Service: A Legacy of Civic Engagement

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Cassandra L. Argo
August 25, 2015

One of the greatest legacies of National Service is the power of AmeriCorps programs in engaging citizens in a lifetime of service. Let’s look at two of Volunteer West Virginia’s programs who exemplify this legacy.

Energy Express  is not only the largest, summer-only program in the nation, it is also one of the oldest continuously funded AmeriCorps programs in West Virginia. Energy Express is a literacy program that places 500 AmeriCorps state members in counties across the state to prevent the summer reading slide. Energy Express members spend six weeks teaching reading skills, playing noncompetitive games and eating family style meals with 3,000 children as well as preparing a year-end showcase for the parents and the community.

Since Energy Express began collecting data on alumni in 2010, 231 AmeriCorps members are former Energy Express child participants. Many of these child participants turned AmeriCorps members have gone on to become site supervisors or trainers for Energy Express. Like Joseph. Joseph was an Energy Express kid from 2001-2003 and served as an Energy Express member from 2013-2015. He is now serving as a site supervisor. He remarked,

“Energy Express has opened a lot of doors for me. Not only did I get over my fear of public speaking and dislike for reading, Energy Express allowed me to achieve my college dream. This simple six week program has wide lasting effects on the lives of children, teenagers, college students and the community.”

Like Energy Express, the Camp Horseshoe program of the Ohio-West Virginia Youth Leadership Association has turned its summer program into a legacy of civic engagement.

Camp Horseshoe, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps for the United States Forest Service, opened in 1940. Camp Horseshoe’s 20 AmeriCorps members work with teens throughout June and July to build civic and personal leadership capacity. During the same period, they work with pre-teens to teach basic social skills, promote active and healthy lifestyles, and lay the foundation for leadership development. For the summer of 2015, six Camp Horseshoe members were once campers, two are the children of alumni and nine are returning members.

Through a one-year commitment to Camp Horseshoe, Mercedes, a multi-year member, not only changed the lives of her campers, but she changed her own as well. Mercedes said, “Serving at Camp Horseshoe was a life-changing experience” because she learned to appreciate what she has and the everyday conveniences that were not always accessible to her campers. Now, Mercedes is continuing to change lives as a governor appointed Commissioner for Volunteer West Virginia.

While the experiences of Joseph, Mercedes, and both Energy Express and Camp Horseshoe have many similarities, the most important similarity is that a single point of contact with AmeriCorps has created a desire for these children and youth to define for themselves a legacy of service. This is not only true for summer-only, education-based programs like Energy Express and Camp Horseshoe. My own experience with a single point of contact with AmeriCorps changed my life forever.

Service has always been a part of my life. But spending time serving alongside an AmeriCorps NCCC team during Hurricane Floyd flood relief in November 1999 changed how I defined service. After learning about national service during my time in North Carolina, I was determined to #ServeAYear with AmeriCorps NCCC. Then a spring break service project to the eastern mountains of Kentucky in 2001 introduced me to the direct service of AmeriCorps State members, which would allow me to put the Social Work degree I was earning from Asbury (College) University to good use.

Ten years later, I realized my dream of becoming an AmeriCorps member. I served two years as an AmeriCorps State member and a year and nine months as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Perry County Department of Job & Family Services (PCDJFS) through a partnership with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. During my almost four years with PCDJFS and the Association, I discovered my passion for service and developed a strong desire to continue strengthening communities once my time came to an end.

On Aug. 18, 2014, that passion and desire led me to become the AmeriCorps Program Officer at Volunteer West Virginia. As an AmeriCorps program officer in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia, I am able to assist both programs and members in realizing their own goals of civic engagement and community service through the AmeriCorps state program. Many of our 258 year-round members and 520 summer-only members have gone on to lead nonprofits, served in additional AmeriCorps branches and with the Peace Corps, and found nontraditional ways get things done in their communities.

To learn more about how you can turn a year of service into a lifetime of service, visit www.nationalservice.gov. Together we can strengthen communities through national service!


Author: Cassandra L. Argo is a native Ohioan living in West Virginia to realize her dream of serving as an AmeriCorps program officer with Volunteer West Virginia, the state’s commission for national & community service. Cassandra holds a BASW from Asbury University and is an alumna of both the AmeriCorps State and AmeriCorps VISTA programs. Cassandra can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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