National Service is a "No Brainer"

It is no secret in Iowa that service and volunteerism are near and dear to my heart. Service was a core component of my first inaugural address in 1983 and, in my most recent inaugural address in 2011, I highlighted service as part of a new covenant between government and the people we serve. I have long been a believer that our community volunteers, charitable nonprofits, and faith-based institutions are often those best equipped to provide long-term solutions to the challenges we face. Service is an issue that Republicans and Democrats should both wholeheartedly embrace, especially during times of austere budgets.

National and community service programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps offer creative solutions through public-private partnerships that empower states, communities, and non-profits by tapping into the essence of what makes our great union so strong - the spirit of our citizens. It has been my pleasure to work with the Corporation for National and Community Service and our state service commission, the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, to utilize these assets to better leverage volunteerism in Iowa. Working with state commission and private sector partners, I recently launched a call to service in Iowa, encouraging each resident to volunteer at least 50 hours a year to help make Iowa an even better place. While fulfilling this call would result in only a slight increase in our existing rate of volunteerism, the change would equate to additional services to Iowa valued at more than one billion dollars.

Yet, asking citizens to serve is not enough; we must also have meaningful volunteer opportunities. That means training nonprofits on volunteer management practices and making sure they have the capacity to coordinate volunteers effectively. Through national and community service programs like AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Volunteer Generation Fund, we are doing these things and leveraging tens of thousands of new volunteers annually to meet our most pressing needs. Iowa, which has the highest density of nonprofits in the country, relies heavily on volunteer labor, and we are proud to be a perennial leader in state volunteer rates. Volunteers need to be recruited, scheduled, and have their activities planned; national service is making that happen and has fueled Iowa's growth in volunteerism over the last 20 years. Each AmeriCorps member in Iowa leverages more than 40 community volunteers by providing regular volunteer management. Some of our most promising and cost-effective approaches to literacy, disaster response, drop-out prevention and community development are driven by the service of volunteers leveraged from these programs.

Through national service, essential public services can be provided more efficiently and effectively. For example, I was encouraged to see the launch in Iowa of the new national FEMA Corps partnership, which uses AmeriCorps members to provide direct services at a lower cost following disasters. When fully implemented, FEMA Corps will provide taxpayers a net savings of more than $60 million annually. But states are leading the effort too -- and we can learn from each other. For example, we are working on developing a Reading Corps in Iowa based upon a very successful effort in Minnesota that utilizes AmeriCorps members to deliver proven tutoring strategies. The Reading Corps is saving Minnesota millions of dollars in special education costs and will provide long-term benefits by helping kids read at grade level.

I believe there are possibilities like these in every state. State service commissions and community leaders are working on developing countless initiatives across the country based on their local needs. Service is a powerful tool for Governors and Mayors to leverage our people power to meet our most pressing challenges. Building the investment and ownership in our communities through civic engagement will pay enormous dividends both immediately and for generations to come. In fact, recent research has shown a direct correlation between civic engagement and the strength of local economies, as well as the physical health of our residents. To me, service is a "no brainer." I hope and encourage you to find this out for yourself.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute to recognize the power of national service, in conjunction with the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the AmeriCorps legislation on September 20th. The Franklin Project is a policy program at the Aspen Institute working to create a 21st century national service system that challenges all young people to give at least one year of full-time service to their country. To see all the posts in this series, click here. To learn more about the Franklin Project, click here.