Sure, 12 years later, it’s easy to take a detached, clinical view of the Katrina response and decide what worked, what didn’t and what to cut. But sorting all that out wasn’t so simple in the chaotic hours and days that followed the storm, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were displaced and in dire need of resources.
What was immediately apparent despite the chaos was the integral role being played by AmeriCorps members, around 40,000 in total, who trained and coordinated hundreds of thousands of faith-based and community volunteers who rapidly fanned out across our state to aid, and in many instances direct, recovery efforts.
These young men and women were the glue that bound together our entire volunteer operation. They ran our shelters and feeding centers, our donation warehouses and emergency call centers. They built or repaired more than 15,000 homes, completed thousands of damage assessments and supported emergency response centers throughout the Gulf Coast region. Crucially, they provided training that enabled volunteers to effectively clean up communities in the wake of the most expensive storm in American history.
Because congressional appropriators and presidents in the past didn’t exercise the easy option, the very same option being asked of Congress today, the work of AmeriCorps in the Gulf South was possible. The Commission on National and Community Service was originally enacted when Republican President George H.W. Bush signed the 1990 National and Community Service Act. In his first presidential acceptance speech, and again in his first inaugural address, Bush spoke of “a thousand points of light” glimmering across our nation, each light a shimmering demonstration of the power of taking part and pitching in. The Corporation for National and Community Service lets those lights shine brighter. Republicans can’t be the party that snuffs them out.