Cities of Service Goes to Washington

January 20, 2016


ast week, I joined the Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers In Service To America) in Washington, D.C., where they officially kicked off their terms of service. The VISTAs, who are the nation’s first cohort dedicated to increasing the resilience of U.S. cities, came together along with one or more staff members from each of the ten Resilience AmeriCorps cities, including: Anchorage, Alaska; Boulder, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; El Paso, Texas; Minot, North Dakota; New Orleans, Louisiana; Norfolk, Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For the next two years, our VISTAs will work alongside city officials and staff and their local communities to increase citizen engagement in the cities’ most vulnerable communities. Through this citizen engagement work, our VISTAS will help those communities prepare for and become more resilient to shocks and stressors, including extreme weather events. The VISTAs bring a diverse range of experiences and expertise, and impressive records of accomplishments, to their work.

The Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps VISTAs have a strong background in service, including AmeriCorps, NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) FEMA Corps and the Peace Corps, as well as local government experience through mayoral fellowships and volunteer efforts in the areas of resilience and sustainability. All of our VISTAs share a passion for service and justice and are ready to embed themselves in communities to make real change for the people in the cities in which they serve. We are lucky to have such a strong cohort to do this important work.

After meeting each other for the first time, the VISTAs were fortunate to be trained by experts who hailed from the private sector as well as many federal agencies in a variety of topics related to the work they will be doing, including creating and implementing a framework for resilience initiatives, understanding what cities need to be resilient, how to best engage citizens in the work, and identifying and beginning to plan specific projects for each city.

What I was most inspired by last week was the overwhelming evidence that we are all stronger and more effective when we work together to make change. I got to witness federal agencies, city staff, experts from the for-profit and for-cause sector, and AmeriCorps VISTAs from communities around the country working together, learning from each other, and increasing our collective ability to make our communities more resilient to shocks and stressors, including the impact of climate and severe weather.

As Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Christy Goldfuss, managing director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality recently wrote in a blog post for the White House, “While climate change poses threats to our environment, economy, and national security, it also presents a tremendous opportunity for innovation. And communities and local leaders will pave the way. Through locally-driven climate action, we will not only improve community resilience to the effects of climate change, but build a stronger nation overall.” We were honored to have Shaun and Christy spend time with the VISTAs, and we’re grateful to them both for championing this program.

I would also like to personally thank Max Finberg, the director of AmeriCorps VISTA; Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service; Harriet Tregoning, who oversees the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Jainey Bavishi, the Associate Director for Climate Preparedness at the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Ali Zaidi, ‎Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science. All of these incredibly busy people shared their time and experience with our VISTAs and we are so grateful.

In addition to these individuals and the agencies they represent, none of this work would be possible without the support and collaboration from our partners at The Rockefeller Foundation, the Corporation for National Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Walmart Foundation.

While the VISTAs will serve in cities across the country, I am excited that Cities of Service will keep them connected – online and off – to share best practices, lessons learned, and provide a network for them to learn from each other throughout their terms of service – much in the same way we are able to do for our 200+ Cities of Service.

Click HERE to read more about Resilience AmeriCorps program and the 10 cities’ specific initiatives.