The Power of Service and Young People to Make a Difference

by
Tyra A. Mariani
October 30, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread economic and educational disruptions, as well as unprecedented food insecurity throughout the United States. In the past few weeks alone, we've seen rates of infection surge across the country, with average daily cases reaching record highs. Amidst a climate of disruption and uncertainty, there are some hopeful bright spots. Since the start of the crisis, many young people across the nation from diverse backgrounds have stepped up selflessly to make a difference on the front lines. In Colorado, AmeriCorps members have mobilized to help with contact tracing; in Philadelphia, they're making and delivering meals to people who can't afford food; and in Minnesota, members teach online classes to public school students.

Today, I saw the power of young people serving their communities put into action myself, as nearly 100 AmeriCorps members participated in the virtual kick-off event of the WA COVID Response Corps—an initiative designed in close partnership with Serve Washington to address the growing food insecurity crisis in Washington state while creating meaningful service opportunities for young people. I was inspired by the young people who answered the call of service and civic engagement. To feel the energy and goodwill emanating from the faces on the screen (even on video!) was a true testament to the power of service and young people's unlimited potential as advocates for optimism and change in our country.

We recognize we're at a critical moment—the needs faced by our community are enormous and continues to grow with each passing day. In Washington State, the number of people relying on food assistance has more than doubled since the start of COVID-19 to more than 2.2 million people. According to a recent study from the University of Washington, a staggering 30 percent of households in Washington are food insecure. Though no one should have to choose between necessities such as food, medical care, utilities, transportation, and housing, the sobering reality is, many of our neighbors are facing tough choices every day about what they can and can't afford. And they shouldn't have to. Even more dishearteningly, it's the most vulnerable among us—low-income families, people of color, single parents and children—who are bearing the brunt of the food insecurity crisis.

That's what makes the work of the WA COVID Response Corps over the coming year all the more crucial.

From now until June 2021, corps members will work at 43 host sites across 15 counties throughout the state—supporting food packing and distribution at food banks, managing and serving in meal distribution sites at schools, providing food access, and growing and gleaning fresh fruits and vegetables in community gardens for food banks—to help keep our neighbors fed and healthy. Their dedication will strengthen the capacity of our local non-profits on the frontlines of the pandemic, and by working together with their fellow corps members to address local challenges and broaden their understanding of different community needs, they will forge deep connections to the communities they're serving and with each other.

In addition to making a lasting impact on our communities and building a shared camaraderie, corps members will have an opportunity to develop professionally and personally along the way. Through service and other supports, corps members will build and maintain leadership skills, gain experience in the social sector, and expand their networks. Our hope is that their service experience will be an invaluable stepping stone on the path to a thriving and fulfilling career.

We believe service and civic engagement are the cornerstones of a caring, resilient, and flourishing community, and the power of corps members' collective commitment in this time of need will have a profound and lasting impact across the state.

Learn more about the WA COVID Response Corps.

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