AnnMaura Connolly’s call to service began with her own year of service after graduating from the College of the Holy Cross, when she served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Southern California. AnnMaura has been a leader in the national service movement for more than 25 years. She has served in senior positions with Youth Service America and the Corporation for National Service. Today, AnnMaura is both Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President of City Year—directing City Year’s public policy, public affairs, communications, and international work—and President of Voices for National Service—a coalition of hundreds of service organizations that work together to advance citizen service policy.
Why are you so dedicated to advancing national service?
Since my experience as a Jesuit Volunteer, I have been committed to the idea that every person should have the opportunity to do a year of full-time service. National service gives you the opportunity to work with people of different backgrounds to get big things done and to change the lives of the people you serve. My year of service was a game changer for me. I served with St. Anselm’s Immigrant and Refugee Center in Garden Grove, CA and worked with refugee families who were struggling to adapt to life in the United States. I lived with six other volunteers in a tiny house in the neighborhood we served. It was a tremendously challenging and exciting year, and when I finished, I knew I wanted others to have the same opportunity that I did. Today, I believe we need national service more than ever before. As a country, we are faced with increasingly difficult choices. How can we meet the growing need for services in a challenging economy? How can we improve the lives of people in our communities and help them thrive when we can barely afford to provide them with the basic services they need to survive? That’s where national service can make a huge difference – it is a cost-effective strategy for public problem solving that leverages the most powerful resource we have: the American people.
You were at the White House 20 years ago when President Clinton swore in the first class of AmeriCorps members. What did you imagine was possible then? What makes you optimistic about the future?
That was an inspiring and thrilling moment—looking out at all the young people who had stepped forward and raised their hands to serve. I knew young people would respond to AmeriCorps, and indeed they have. I continue to be optimistic about the future of national service. At City Year, I see first-hand the results that national service can achieve. City Year AmeriCorps members are having a tremendous impact in some of the country’s highest-need schools. At the same time, through my work with Voices, I see great work happening on many different issues because of the power of national service.
What does Voices for National Service do?
Though more than 830,000 young people have served in AmeriCorps so far, hundreds of thousands more want the opportunity to participate. And despite the surging demand, national service is often under threat. Voices for National Service, for which I am honored to serve as President, was born out of a collective effort to save AmeriCorps from devastating cuts in 2003. From there it has grown to be a powerful force for expanding national service. The coalition is led by a volunteer Steering Committee made up of leaders from state service commissions and national and local service programs, and together, we work to build the case for the federal investment in national service, educate our nation’s leaders and the American people about the tremendous value proposition that national service represents and honor and thank leaders who take action to grow national service. In 2009 we worked together as a field to help craft and build support for the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which put forth a plan to grow AmeriCorps to 250,000 members serving annually. We haven’t achieved that goal yet but we are confident that by working together, engaging decision makers and building the strongest possible case, we will not only achieve that goal but also our vision for one million people serving every year. Time and time again, members of congress, governors, mayors, and presidents who see young people serving their country–making a difference–agree that AmeriCorps and national service are worth investing in.
At City Year, one of your responsibilities is leadership of the organization’s international work. What inspires you about working to expand service overseas?
My passion is that every young person–wherever they live–be asked and given the opportunity to serve. I have had the honor of working with committed leaders in South Africa and the United Kingdom to establish City Year affiliates in their countries. Those experiences have shown me that this idea that young people can change the world through a year of full-time national service is not uniquely American. The values that are the essence of City Year are universal. Young people across the world are resources just waiting to be tapped. They want to be part of creating a better future for their communities, their countries and the world.
Tell us about the ongoing role that President Clinton has played in expanding national service:
President Clinton was the driving force behind AmeriCorps, and that has been the engine behind City Year’s expansion across the country. But many people don’t know that he is also the reason there is a City Year affiliate in South Africa and he has stayed involved over the years, often visiting on his regular trips to Johannesburg. Secretary Clinton and Chelsea have also been powerful advocates for national service and City Year. Secretary Clinton was a vocal champion for national service in the Senate and was the founding Co-Chair of City Year New York, and Chelsea has joined City Year New York for service days and their annual gala. In addition, Chelsea has made service a key focus for her work with the Clinton Foundation and founded the Day of Action program to help inspire communities across the country to expand service opportunities.