On 31 January, I made the following posting to CyberVPM and PRO-VM. I also sent it to a long list of colleagues - and to the White House, in a bit more formal language. It is so very relevant to the Hot Topic that I had written only a few days earlier that I decided to post it here, too. And several people have given permission to share their responses to me publicly. Make your opinion known to decision-makers! -- Susan J. Ellis
I have been waiting for 36 hours to see some reaction from any volunteerism organization to the stunning announcement in the State of the Union Address about the "USA Freedom Corps" and the new "Citizen Service Corps." Nan Hawthorne posted the press release, but no one has responded here as of yet (I get this in digest form, so I apologize if something crosses in the ether about this). I don't know about you, but I am absolutely furious about this "new" thrust and here's why:
- Once again, a MAJOR expenditure of government money and time is being spent on a volunteer-related subject WITHOUT any involvement of the existing volunteer community. This is yet another "Corps" tacked onto the existing ones and seemingly separate from the Corporation - so it means a new bureaucracy having to be mobilized overnight. This, in turn, means hiring staff from thin air, with unknown experience or background in citizen service.
- The focus, as always, is on getting people to volunteer - as if no one does - and assumes so wrongly that organizations WANT more volunteers! No thinking has been done on how to increase the capacity of organizations to utilize volunteers more effectively and, I guarantee, there is no intention to give money to organizations to do this.
- Once again, volunteer centers are totally invisible. The President expects each community to create a new "council" to manage all this - why???? Why not give every volunteer center a grant to do this work as a logical extension of their activities? (Not that most centers have this capability, but isn't it better to start from something already there than to start from zero?) And I wonder how VOAD, associations of volunteer firefighters/EMTs, the Civil Air Patrol, and other existing, related organizations feel about being talked "about" and not "with"?
- Volunteer management, as a profession, is simply so far off the radar screen that it never occurs to anyone that some people are actually trained in this field. And why doesn't AVA or Points of Light respond and teach the White House something for a change? Everyone one of us should write to the White House, by the way -- I will do so later today.
- I went to the Web site <http://www.USAFreedomCorps.gov> and was stunned to see that it was "up and running." So somebody knew about this for a while, I guess. But clicking around turned up no name of any involved, no address, no nothing - this is all smoke and mirrors right now. (Credit, however, the person who at least added a link to VolunteerMatch.)I then telephoned the toll-free number. As expected, I first got a recorded message telling me to go to the Web site. Then it gave me the option to select "Citizen Corps," AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, or Peace Corps (one positive note within this rant is that at least this publicity is giving these other programs some new promotion, and we finally managed to bring the Peace Corps back into linkage with the domestic programs). I pressed option one and got a live person - after first overhearing part of a social conversation in the background! (The phone call had constant clicking and the operator said, "oh, that's just the phone line." I wonder if the call was being taped?) At any rate, the woman began to read from a script about "thanks for calling...have you been to the web site..." and so on. I stopped her and said: "Can you please tell me WHERE the "Citizen Corps" is? Who's in charge?" She said, "well, I don't have that information available right now, but I can send you a brochure that will explain it all." So I gave her my address. Then I said, "where are you calling from?" She said: "Indiana." I said, "yes, but what organization do you represent?" Of course, after more questions, it was revealed that she worked for a business contracted to answer the phones only. This is ok, but also shows the cash flowing. Finally, because I kept asking where Citizen Corps "is," she put me on hold to speak to a supervisor. When she returned, she said: "I'm going to give you the number for AmeriCorps." But it was the 800 number and had no name attached. I thanked her for her help and she said, "the brochure should get to you in 3 to 4 weeks." OBVIOUSLY, this is all an elaborate front for nothing there. But I'll bet you any amount that in a few weeks Bush will announce: "The toll-free line for Citizen Corps has received 1,287,365 phone calls since my speech!" I will indeed believe that - but he will not report and no one will ask for a report on how many people actually were directed into volunteer work. (Reagan did this exact same thing in his first State of the Union address, by the way - only he couldn't set up a web site.)
- As you know, the Minnesota Office of Citizenship and Volunteer Services was summarily axed by Jesse Ventura and TODAY is its last day. Can you spell "mixed messages," boys and girls?
A query: Is there anyone on this list who had any forewarning of this new venture? Any contact from a government official at a local level (since that's where all of this is supposed to take place)? Has anyone contacted you since the speech to enlist your advice, help, etc.?
For the record: I am NOT against getting more people to volunteer. But I am truly afraid this new boondoggle will end up draining funds into a useless venture that doesn't come close to doing what it could.
PLEASE - let's dialogue about this and make our opinions known.