U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-Dearborn) addressed more than 50 students and community members Wednesday afternoon at a rally calling for the restoration of funds to AmeriCorps, which is facing budget cuts of 57 percent nationwide.

For the state of Michigan, the cuts would mean a drop from 700 AmeriCorps members to 100 – almost a 90 percent decrease – and the number of Michigan residents served by the programs would fall from 120,000 to less than 20,000, according to a written statement issued by Dingell’s office.

Dingell spoke to the group assembled on the lawn of the Edward Ginsburg Center for Community Service and Learning on Hill Street about the importance of the program and its value to communities. “Look at what the program costs, it’s peanuts. But look at what they’ve given the people they’ve helped,” he said.

Dingell referenced President Bush’s January 2002 invitation to all Americans to take part in community service, saying he hoped President Bush would honor his commitment to the program.

He also spoke of the need “to make sure every eager enthusiastic American who wants to serve their country has this mechanism available to them.”

Both in his words Wednesday and in a letter written to President Bush last month, Dingell emphasized the importance of more funding for the program, which he said was both of immense and incalculable value. He urged President Bush to seek $200 million in supplemental funding for the program, an amount he called “a minute sum” in relation to the tax cuts he said many wealthy Americans received.

“I think we need to put money where it will benefit the little people and where it will enable us to have a government that provides the stimulus needed for our citizens to participate,” he said.

For Penny Bailer, executive director of City Year Detroit, the largest AmeriCorps program in Michigan, the cuts in funding would mean having to turn away members for 2004. Instead of being able to accept 70 members, the program would only be able to accept 12.

“We have Corp members ready to start, ready to serve in September, and we’ve got all of them on a waiting list – we want to confirm them but can’t without the funding,” Bailer said.

She added that in addition to being mentors and role models in the communities they serve, they are well on their way to doing what the President asked of them. “He called on every American to give 4,000 hours of community service in their lifetime and these AmeriCorps members give an average of 2,000 hours in one year,” she said.

AmeriCorp volunteer Leah Jackson, who attended Wednesday’s event to show her support for the program and to help send a message about the importance of more funding, said she is most moved by the chance to make a difference.

The Ann Arbor resident is in her second semester volunteering as a part of a tutoring program through the Washtenaw Family Support Network SOS Crisis Center. “Being able to see the light come on in one child’s eyes when they can do something they said they thought they couldn’t do – the impact is immeasurable,” Jackson said.

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