A Brief History of State Offices on Volunteerism and Commissions on Community Service

Back to Hot Topic

State Offices on Volunteerism

In the late 70’s, State Offices on Volunteerism were created not by the States’ desire to have such an office, but in response to the availability of funding from ACTION (the forerunner of today’s Corporation on National and Community Service). Some States never took the opportunity, others used federal dollars and then dissolved their Offices when those funds ran out. Commitment was often skin deep. On the other hand, several states seemed to provide genuine support for state-level volunteer coordination. But, unlike fields such as aging or health, there has never been consistency of approach across the nation.

State Commissions on Community Service

Most of the State Commissions were started as paper tigers, formed mainly to satisfy the Feds and give some prizes to political friends. Because AmeriCorps, the dominant program under consideration, was seen as untried and probably not very long-lived, it didn’t seem to matter whether a Commission did anything other than front for the funds.

In 1998, however, the situation has changed. AmeriCorps is in its fifth year. The merger of ACTION into the Corporation is complete and there are few opposing voices, even from the various "Elder Corps" programs. Under the leadership of Harris Wofford--a long-time champion of service programs--the Corporation has gained some respect. Most important, there seems to be bi-partisan support for continuing and even increasing the budget for AmeriCorps. 

So today the prospects for state Commissions on Community Service are that they may be around for a while--and will continue to bring in federal money. This means they are "important" to state legislatures in a way that State Offices on Volunteerism (rarely producing new revenue) could ever be. It’s easy to see how legislators, never informed about our field in the first place, would reach the conclusion that it is cheaper to fund one program than two. Merger therefore is politically expedient.

Back to Hot Topic