AmeriCorps Alums: Untapped Potential

First lady Michelle, third from left, is assisted by Americorps volunteers Ben Riley, from left, and Leo Lopez and other volu
First lady Michelle, third from left, is assisted by Americorps volunteers Ben Riley, from left, and Leo Lopez and other volunteers as she join congressional families and Americorps members in building a playground with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit organization that promotes activity at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in northeast Washington, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Maya spent 1,700 hours serving her country with AmeriCorps. And now, she's ready to launch a career that will change the world. Or, she's out of luck, out of work, and about to join the estimated 6.7 million "disconnected youth" who cost taxpayers an estimated $1.56 trillion dollars over their lifetimes.

Which will it be? This past year, through AmeriCorps service, Maya was a mentor, teacher, coach, advisor and inspiration to Oakland middle-schoolers. She's an emerging leader in the neighborhood where she grew up and where she served. Through national service, she gained critical skills in teamwork, project management, facilitation and communication. As her one year term of service ends, will a potential employer or a college admissions officer actively recruit her because of her service -- or will they wonder "What's AmeriCorps?" and "How come Maya only lasted a year in her last role?"

Maya is not alone. Since 1994, nearly 1 million Americans have raised their hands through service with AmeriCorps. This spring, more than 5,200 alumni of AmeriCorps, from all 50 states, raised their voices. In a "Life after AmeriCorps" survey administered by AmeriCorps Alums, alumni told us that their civilian national service solidified their commitment to strengthening America. Nearly all alums (88 percent) believed their AmeriCorps service was among the most significant professional experiences of their life. They were confident that through national service they developed skills to be better students, employees and citizens. They shared with us that as young alums, they wanted careers that mattered.

Alumni of national service, like a veteran coming home or a returned Peace Corps volunteer arriving stateside, had challenges continuing their educations and moving from their service experiences into their next professional jobs. Only a third of alums strongly agreed they knew how to navigate "life after AmeriCorps" (e.g. find a new job, get into a school of their choice).

Engaged citizens and civic leaders like Maya aren't just nice to have. They're critical to our country's future. We are a nation where one in five children lives in poverty, high school dropout rates persist and the rungs of the ladder to economic mobility are shaky at best. America's challenges are real. Now more than ever, we need all Americans -- and especially those who have proven themselves to be citizen leaders -- to be asked to be part of the solution, and to be given opportunities to do so.

Too frequently, and for too long, the potential of AmeriCorps alumni has gone unrecognized, unrewarded and under-leveraged. With the future of our country at stake, why would we leave this talent on the sidelines? Three steps we can take to fix this:

  • College and universities should be fast-tracking AmeriCorps national service alumni into their programs by giving preference to and providing additional scholarships for their domestic service experience. Around 120 schools already match the scholarship that AmeriCorps members receive for their service -- we should expand these efforts.

  • Employers, both private and nonprofit, should recognize that the skills built in AmeriCorps are incredibly valuable in today's workforce, and they should update hiring applications and HR screening protocols to seek out AmeriCorps service experience. Many partners, ranging from Comcast to Deloitte and the Urban Teacher Center, already actively recruit alums. Their efforts should be applauded, and others should follow their lead.
  • The Federal government should extend non-competitive eligibility to all AmeriCorps alumni, and government leaders at state and local levels should adjust their hiring practices so alumni from Reading Partners to Conservation Corps have clear on-ramps to meet the civil service needs they're facing. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers get non -- competitive eligibility, as do members of the Public Lands Corps. We should expand these benefits to all civilian service veterans.
  • Maya, along with the nearly 1 million alumni of AmeriCorps who have served since 1994 have proven to be civic leaders, team builders, and problem solvers with a "get things done" attitude. For the good of America, let's work to ensure that all Americans have the common opportunity of being able to serve like Maya -- and then let's tap the potential of alums to grow as civic leaders, for life. Let's thank these alums, support them and count on them to keep getting things done for America. To help spread this message, today we'll be joining more than 300 leaders at the Aspen Institute's Summit at Gettysburg. In a discussion with Chelsea Clinton, we'll proudly share that national service and the impact of our alumni network is necessary, not just nice. Maya wants to change the world -- and America needs her. We're asking you to join us in supporting her and her nearly one million alumni peers.

    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 latter's Summit At Gettysburg (June 4-6, 2014, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania). 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, read here. To learn more about The Franklin Project, read here.