Last month, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, which works to serve our most vulnerable communities by sponsoring volunteers committed to lending a helping hand. AmeriCorps members have completed over one billion hours of service since 1994, and have had an immense impact on mobilizing communities to work together for a more promising future. As a former VISTA volunteer, I know firsthand the tremendous impact volunteering can have for both the volunteer and the community.
In the 1970s, I saw my own community suffering from the effects of economic stagnation and limited access to financial resources. Following a recession, traditional financial institutions strayed from community lending and investing. This unfortunate trend made it harder for local business owners to meet their financial obligations, leading many to close their doors. As a board member of the Midtown Neighborhood Association of Milwaukee, I was inspired to help repair the damage caused by the recession. It was that very inspiration that encouraged me to become a VISTA volunteer.
VISTA's mission is to create pathways out of poverty. It was through this program that I was given a platform to develop a financial institution that our neighbors could depend on for honest advice and access to capital. The VISTA volunteers and I were tasked with establishing a community credit union from scratch that could offer basic banking and loans for projects that created jobs, fostered local economic growth, and contributed to Milwaukee's inner city. I worked tirelessly with my fellow volunteers and soon, the Cream City Community Development Credit Union was born.
With the help of AmeriCorps, the Cream City Community Development Credit Union served as a catalyst for economic redevelopment and investments in our community. I know first-hand what a significant impact AmeriCorps programs make in improving the lives of individuals all over our country. As I look back at this time in my life, I take great pride knowing I contributed to an initiative that provided opportunities to those who needed it the most.
My story is just one VISTA success. Every year, approximately 75,000 men and women dedicate themselves to community betterment through their involvement with AmeriCorps. Since 1994, nearly 500,000 AmeriCorps members have served with thousands of nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and faith-based organizations nationwide to fight illiteracy, promote access to health services, and reduce crime and recidivism.
On this 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, I encourage all Americans to reflect on the ways they can strengthen their communities through volunteering. As AmeriCorps continues to serve, let us thank them for their commitment to our nation and support their mission by getting involved.