Over 750,000 first time unemployment claims were filed last week, up to a quarter of all small businesses remain closed, and there is growing concern over the increase in substance abuse overdoses and suicide brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet for one Public Allies staff alum, there has never been a better time for national service programs than now. That’s the view of Elizabeth Slater, who completed her personal goal of a decade of service in AmeriCorps as both a volunteer and staff member, including her role as a director with Public Allies Silicon Valley / San Francisco.
In a recent op-ed, Elizabeth argues that national service programs are “uniquely poised to address the significant challenges we face at this moment in our country’s history.” By supporting legislation to expand these programs, she says, we have the opportunity to provide crucial support to the health and economic crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ethic of service was instilled in Elizabeth early on. Growing up, her family moved around a lot, and became chronic “joiners.” Volunteering was not just a way to help, but a strategy to meet new friends and learn about the community of each new place they called home.
After graduating college with a degree in Nonprofit Administration, Elizabeth began on her AmeriCorps journey. Each experience deepend her understanding of what she calls the “efforts everywhere” by people and organizations trying to better their communities.
During her Public Allies tenure, it was the diversity of cohort members that made the deepest impression on Elizabeth. “I had quite a few Allies that had completely different backgrounds than me,” she says. “Watching them navigate the community from their unique point of view helped me learn a lot. I still draw on that experience every day.”
“Systems can’t sustain the amount of current need without an injection of helpers”
Elizabeth has no shortage of opportunities to apply her learnings. Now CEO at a Tucson-based organization called Youth On Their Own, she helps teenagers experiencing homelessness to stay in high school and graduate. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth’s hands are especially full during this pandemic. Barriers for success are as high as ever, and so is her determination to help young people overcome them.
For as much as Elizabeth and her team are able to provide essential services during this challenging time, the demand exceeds their capacity. Indeed, we need thousands more Elizabeths across the country. “Systems can’t sustain the amount of current need without an injection of helpers,” she says.
According to Elizabeth, the proposed CORPS Act would provide exactly that by expanding service programs that provide virtual tutoring, infrastructure expansion, food distribution, and so much more. Not only would this mean an influx of much-needed job opportunities and tangible assistance for those most impacted by the pandemic, but it would also offer a sense of unity in a time of deep polarization.
“National service solves so many of the issues that we have now,” Elizabeth says. “Growing the program gives more opportunity for people to be part of some solutions, which will uplift us all.”
Public Allies echos Elizabeth’s call for the passage of the CORPS Act. As stated by CEO Jaime Uzeta in a May op-ed, “America has a long and rich history of national service, often turning to it as a powerful lever in times of crisis such as in the aftermath of September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, and the Great Recession of 2008. Now should be no different.”