The East Bay Times recently published an article featuring featuring two former students, Samantha and Deonta, talking about their experience at Civicorps and the effect of a possible cut in the Americorps Education Awards program. Check out the full article below. Bay Area News Group Photo Credit/Ray Chavez.
Oakland college students turn their lives around, now here comes Trump’s first budget
BAY AREA NEWS GROUP | BY GARY PETERSON
Published March 8, 2017 at 1:09 pm | UPDATED: March 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm
In Washington, D.C., a bean counter raises a figurative ax and chops a Clinton-era public service program from a draft of President Donald Trump’s first federal budget.
The pain, for Oakland’s Samantha Vitti, is not figurative.
Vitti, 25, a self-described “work in progress,” is a single mom who spent much of her childhood in the foster system. She dropped out of high school. Stories like hers typically are not harbingers of a life filled with joy and light. But Vitti has taken steps to rewrite her personal narrative.
Through Civicorps, a West Oakland-based nonprofit with charter high school and job-training components, Vitti has earned her high school diploma. By working service-related jobs, she has earned monetary awards that are helping pay her way through Chabot College.
The monetary awards are bestowed by AmeriCorps, once touted as the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps, now one of nine programs that Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, wishes to consign to the dustbin of history. Even though the programs’ combined cost, $2.5 billion, is sofa change when compared with the $4 trillion federal budget. Or the $54 billion bump in funding Trump desires for the military.
AmeriCorps awarded Civicorps members $150,629 last year in exchange for performing community service. If AmeriCorps is cut, Civicorps will endure. But students such as Vitti will be left short when it comes time to pay for their postsecondary education.
“My reaction is maybe our president, or whoever is in charge of cutting these expenses, maybe they haven’t been exposed to the results,” Vitti said recently on the Chabot campus, where she’s in her second semester. “I don’t want to say anything negative, but maybe put the result in front of them. Show them that we have to work for these things, and they’re not just given to us.”
“They’re picking on the wrong things,” Civicorps Executive Director Alan Lessik said. “A program like AmeriCorps has been working well, providing resources, in our case for folks who have extreme challenges in their life. Having $2,500 (the average total earned by a Civicorps student) makes a huge difference if they’re going to get through the next step in their life. Civicorps is here to get people into a sustaining career. It’s not a grant program. It’s the wrong program to pick on.”
About those results:
According to Lessik, Civicorps has a 72 percent graduation rate from high school. One year later, 73 percent of graduates are in college or working. Those who quit the program lose all the money they have earned to that point.
“That 73 percent is really the thing we’re proud of,” Lessik said.
It’s not easy. “You have to work,” Vitti said. “Like, you have to work hard. We have a conservation corps. We clean up the East Bay.”
Vitti said she joined Civicorps with the mistaken belief that “people owed me things.” She said she got “terminated” at one point. “When I came back, I made sure I was motivated,” she said. Now she has an internship with the Oakland Housing Authority. Four days a week, she works and takes classes. The experience motivated her to pursue a degree in psychology.
“I want to help people,” she said. “I can be like a cheat sheet. I wasn’t perfect.”
For much of his childhood and adolescence, Deonta Robinson, 23, also walked a familiar dead-end path. A high school dropout, he was shot three times.
“One time, it was just the life that I was living,” he said. “And the other times, I was trying to involve myself in something I should never have been involving myself in.”
Like Vitti, he “had a little hiccup” early on in the program when he was arrested on an old case. He spent a month in jail. He said that when he got out, he made the honor roll three times and received multiple awards for perfect attendance. He made up for his lost month and graduated with the people he had started with.
Like Vitti, he is attending community college and wants to earn a degree in psychology.
“Civicorps was what started me off,” he said. “It taught me a lot about life, about jobs, credit. They should probably not cut something that’s proven useful.”
It bears noting that AmeriCorps has been a political football since early in its existence, with Democrats extolling its virtue in personal terms and Republican hard-liners decrying it as wasteful spending. It’s still here.
“There have been previous threats, and each time either Congress or the administration realized, ‘This is actually important to us and doesn’t cost much,’” Lessik said. “It does real good. There’s no budget yet before Congress. At some point, they’re going to start that process.”
You can almost hear the grinder’s wheel as we speak.