WASHINGTON – Before she moved to Maryland for a 10-month volunteer program, Audrey Massenburg watched as a construction crew tore up sections of her childhood home in New Orleans.
Now, with only a few weeks of training at the Perry Point campus of the AmeriCorps-National Civilian Community Corps, she has returned to her hometown city to help gut others’ homes.
“Just the thought of having to come down here and tear up someone’s house, I mean, it was hard,” Massenburg said. “But, at the same time, I was looking at this as a first step in rebuilding the city.”
The NCCC’s work helping to rebuild the Crescent City may end up saving the federal program, which started in 1994 with the first campus in Maryland.
President Bush’s 2007 fiscal year budget would cut the program from $27 million in federal funds to $5 million that would go toward shutting down the program.
However, the Senate Committee on Appropriations set aside $20 million Tuesday for the NCCC program in markups of the emergency supplemental spending bill for Gulf Coast relief, which will go next to the Senate for debate. A vote could come by the end of the month.
If the funds are not reinstated through Congress, the Perry Point campus where Massenburg trained would close down in December when the corps members graduate. Even if Congress passes the bill, the NCCC program will have $2 million dollars less than it does this year.
Perry Point in Cecil County is one of five NCCC campuses, where some volunteers learn firefighting techniques and all learn first aid and disaster relief training. While corps members are based in the five campuses, they travel the country to assist in disasters or fill gaps in education, environmental and other service programs.
“The efforts of NCCC were certainly helpful but we have to look at whether it is the most efficient way to help,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.
Part of the problem, Conant said, is that many other AmeriCorps programs get matched funds from the organizations they help, which brings down the costs, while the NCCC is fully funded by the federal government.
The federal government could hire almost two AmeriCorps volunteers with matched funds for every one NCCC member, according to figures from the Corporation for National and Community Service.
While the president’s budget eliminates the NCCC, Conant said it allows for the creation of another 1,000 AmeriCorps positions.
Ken Barrette, a NCCC member from the first class and now works at Blue Cross Blue Shield, agrees the program has not shown its full value on paper. However, the Annapolis resident said the problem is that there has not been enough measurement of the program’s long-term successes.
For example, he said many of the structures that his graduating class helped build in Maryland and around the country are still being used more than 10 years later.
Barrette has seen people explore a Delaware state park because he helped build a path bridge there. He remembers how children and adults with disabilities were able to receive physical therapy at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center in Glenwood because his group helped build trails there.
More than the things that his graduating class made, Barrette was impressed that so many of his corps-mates have continued to work in community service fields, ranging from pro bono work for law firms to child advocacy to working for the U.S. Forest Service.
Even in her first few weeks at the NCCC, Massenburg has already seen an immediate return on her work. During training at Perry Point, she said her group would do smaller day projects, like cleaning up trash near a Baltimore elementary school.
“It was nice that they could actually go play there after we cleaned up,” she said. “AmeriCorps kind of gives you a sense of pride. Once you start a job and you see it get accomplished, you feel really good.”