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Strengthening Service through Disability Inclusion

by Robert Velasco, II

Last week the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) convened more than 200 leaders in the disability and service communities at the 2011 Symposium on Service and Inclusion. Our goal: to discuss strategies to recruit, engage, and support more people with disabilities in national service.

Service empowers individuals and transforms lives. It is a pathway to employment, education, civic involvement, and more. For people with disabilities, national service is also a powerful opportunity to be on the giving, rather than the receiving end of service.

Just ask Scott Carter, an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Elko, Nevada.

Scott was working part-time cleaning tables in a fast food restaurant when he attended an employment fair and interviewed for a VISTA position with the People First/Youth Transition Project.

Now in his third year, Scott is serving as a role model for kids with developmental disabilities in the schools of Elko, and connecting other people with disabilities to vital resources, services, and support. Using his Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, Scott was able to realize his dream of going to college, where he is now taking American Sign Language courses.

Scott's story is a reminder that inclusion isn't just the right thing to do; it's the best thing to do.

U.S. Air Force veteran and AmeriCorps alum Zernial Bogan, a speaker at the Symposium on Service and Inclusion, shares how AmeriCorps has helped him and why other veterans should consider joining AmeriCorps.

That is why CNCS has a long and proud commitment to disability inclusion, and has invested more than $80 million in this important work. With a strong network of state service commissions, grantees, and other partners, we are:

  • Building relationships between national service and disability organizations;
  • Promoting service and volunteerism to people with disabilities;
  • Providing tools and training to help programs support disability inclusion on the ground; and
  • Researching promising practices that make service a pathway to employment and education.

But there's more work to do.

For example, over the past decade more than two million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them are returning home with visible and invisible disabilities. National service programs can help engage these heroes in a new mission on the home front.

Our new report "Engaging Veterans with Disabilities in National and Community Service” highlights the benefits of service for veterans, and captures the best ways to communicate with and recruit those who have served in our armed forces.

The Symposium on Service and Inclusion took on this and many other timely topics. It was an opportunity to renew our commitment to inclusion, and to continue building our capacity to engage and support people with disabilities in national service.

Making service accessible and attractive to all Americans is at the heart of what we do at CNCS because everyone – no matter their age, gender, income, or disability – can serve.

Robert Velasco is Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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