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Los Angeles: Tackling Tough Problems Through National Service

by Wendy Spencer

At the Corporation for National and Community Service, we hear and learn about amazing things happening through national service every day. But the best way to experience the power of national service isn't in our headquarters in Washington, DC.

It's on the ground at one of the more than 70,000 sites across the country where AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members serve. It's up close and personal with the people whose lives are being changed, and in the communities growing stronger through national service.

A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to experience national service firsthand in Los Angeles.

During a whirlwind trip, I visited the Weingart Center, a nonprofit organization taking on homelessness, one of the county's most pressing and persistent challenges. With more than 50,000 people living on the streets of Los Angeles, it's been called the “homeless capital of America.” Through the Weingart Center's Hope for the Homeless program, 20 AmeriCorps members, who were formerly homeless themselves, are working to meet this challenge.

Hope for the Homeless AmeriCorps members reach out to men and women living in downtown Los Angeles, and connect them to vital programs and services that help them live more stable lives – from food, to hygiene kits, to clinical referrals. In just the past year, Hope for the Homeless has served more than 10,000 of Los Angeles' truly most vulnerable residents.

A few miles away, 826LA, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center, is transforming lives in a different but just as meaningful way. With the support of AmeriCorps VISTA members and AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates, 826LA offers a range of free programs for students ages 6-18, including after- and in-school tutoring, workshops, and other services that give young people the one-on-one attention they need to improve their writing.

I was thrilled to meet a mother whose twin daughters, enrolled in 826LA's English Language Learner Camp, are overcoming language barriers and gaining the confidence to raise their hands, ask questions, and engage in class. 826LA, with the support of national service members, is empowering some of Los Angeles' young people to have a voice.

During my trip I also had the honor of recognizing the CaliforniaVolunteers AmeriCorps Member of the Year, Luciano Mondolo. Luciano serves through Playworks at the Chavez Elementary School in Norwalk, CA, in a community with more than a 90 percent poverty rate. Since “Coach Mondolo” stepped in, student behavior has improved, parents are engaged, and volunteers are taking a hands-on role in turning this school around. You can read an inspiring letter about Luciano by the principal of Chavez Elementary here.

These were only three of several outstanding examples of national service I saw, on the ground, in Los Angeles. The visit was a great reminder that the best view of this work isn't from Washington, DC.; it's from the tens of thousands of communities across America that tackle real problems, every day, through national service.

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