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Advocating for National Service on Capitol Hill Day

The Hamilton soundtrack was playing in my head as we headed up Independence Avenue to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Voices for National Service is an advocacy group for federally supported service opportunities, including AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund, the Volunteer Generation Fund, and State Service Commissions. Every year, they organize a Capitol Hill Day where National Service grantees talk directly to their congressional leaders to emphasize the importance of their work in the community.

I stood on a carpet with The Seal of the House of Representatives as I waited to go through security. This would be my first time in this building and I felt nerves giving way to awe.

Maria Lopez of College Possible, Lisa Winkler of Serve Minnesota, Imani Augustus Legislative Director with the Office of Rep. Phillips, Sarah Butensky of Teach For America, and Karen Casanova of Reading Partners.

My Minnesota team consisted of Karen Casanova, the chief advancement officer for Reading Partners, Sarah Butensky, a director at Teach For America, and our captain, Lisa Winkler, the vice president of Serve Minnesota. I was the only one new to this. Voices for National Service had held an instructional webinar and provided helpful hints for these short meetings. As per directions, we planned our talk and divided the headlines. This year, Voices for National Service had three main points they wanted to advocate for with congressional leaders: a request to remove the federal tax from the AmeriCorps education award, a request to support the house budget increase for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS, which oversees the AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA programs, among others), and to recognize and participate in activities related to the 25th anniversary of AmeriCorps. I was to do the ask for the house budget increase.

We were doing a “walk and talk” through the House of Representatives! However, I was rehearsing my ask – “increase national service funding by $55 million above the FY19 enacted level, which will help us expand our work and increase stipends to those serving.”

Lisa Winkler of Serve Minnesota, Maria Lopez of College Possible, Sarah Butensky of Teach For America, Catherine Lenz from the Office of Rep. Emmer, and Karen Casanova of Reading Partners.

In three hours, we met with Myles Ambrose, Office of Rep. Angie Craig, Imani Augustus, Office of Rep. Dean Phillips and Catherine Lenz, Office of Rep. Tom Emmer. Minnesota has one of the highest rates of volunteerism in the nation and all the congressional aides were familiar with the work of CNCS. Our Minnesota team and legislative requests were all well received.

Both Mr. Ambrose and Ms. Augustus had friends that had served with AmeriCorps or AmeriCorps VISTA. Representatives Craig and Philips had recently signed a letter by Rep. Betty McCollum urging against the restructure of CNCS, which meant the closure of the Minnesota CNCS offices.  Their aides questioned us about what this would mean to us in our daily work and reassured us that they supported National Service and our work. We left each of the three offices with promises that the Representatives would consider attending a 25th anniversary event!

By M. Maria López
Development Officer for Federal and Institutional Giving


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