Caring Ohioans answering the call to service

By Charles Barber

Special to The Vindicator

At no time in our nation’s history has the presence of service been more evident in fighting poverty than now; as there are over 1,200 projects across the country, providing service opportunities, and poverty-level living stipends, to more than 6,000 AmeriCorps VISTA members nationwide.

In Ohio alone, citizens are answering the call to service each and every day, recognizing the need to fight social issues and hoping to change the lives of those in need. During the 2009-2010 project year of AmeriCorps VISTA, there were more than 1,330 men and women in Ohio serving AmeriCorps VISTA terms of service and since 1994, more than 22,000 Ohioans have taken the oath of service in one of six nationally recognized AmeriCorps programs.

The AmeriCorps programs that are administered within Ohio have a lasting effect not only on the lives of the individuals who are committed to serving a year of service, but also on the lives of individuals served by the programs run by the AmeriCorps members, and on the communities in which the programs are run.

Benefit Bank

A shining example of the impact that National Service initiatives can have on our communities is with The Ohio Benefit Bank. Started through an initiative of AmeriCorps VISTA members serving a year of service under the administration of The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, The Ohio Benefit Bank sought to connect Ohioans with tax credits, work supports and income enhancements. From a true grass roots perspective, the AmeriCorps VISTA members that first brought this project off of the ground started traveling throughout Ohio educating individuals on The Ohio Benefit Bank and getting community and faith-based organizations to sign up as Ohio Benefit Bank sites.

Through diligence and dedication, AmeriCorps VISTA members have continued to be the “boots on the ground” for The Ohio Benefit Bank. The Ohio Benefit Bank began on the ground as a pilot in 2006 and has since exploded to more than 1,200 trained sites throughout Ohio, with more than 5,000 trained counselors connecting Ohioans in need to services that enrich and enhance their lives.

Tax credits

Not only have lives been transformed through the efforts of AmeriCorps VISTA with The Ohio Benefit Bank, but because of their dedication, The Ohio Benefit Bank has become the most successful application assistance tool throughout the nation, connecting more than 181,000 Ohio households to tax credits, work supports and income enhancements worth potentially over $404 million dollars. Without the efforts of AmeriCorps VISTA members, The Ohio Benefit Bank would not be the success that it is today.

Benefits of National Service programs are reciprocal. Individuals who dedicate time out of their lives in the name of service are able to see first-hand societal issues that they may not otherwise come in contact with and become engaged and participate with other members from all walks of life.

If the federal government should decide to eliminate funding for the Corporation of National and Community Services, lives throughout Ohio would be disrupted. In a time when young adults are graduating with two and four year degrees, but there are very few jobs, National Service initiatives have become a great way to keep some of our most talented men and women engaged and maintain their talents within Ohio.

Charles Barber is communications manager for the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks in Columbus.