We mentioned when it passed through the Senate earlier this year, but now it’s official: President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (also known as the Serve America Act, or S.277) yesterday afternoon at the charter SEED School of Washington, DC. The bill is a “landmark” and would greatly expand the nation’s volunteer corps and start new programs to expand innovative social programs, help small charities get management advice, and make volunteerism more effective, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
A section of the bill focuses on the Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP) program, which promotes international volunteer service by skilled American professionals. Working in cooperation with the USA Freedom Corps and the Global Giving Foundation, VfP provides eligible skilled professionals with fixed amount stipends to offset the travel and living costs of volunteering abroad. Volunteers must supply a dollar-for-dollar match for a VfP stipend, either through the organization with which the individual is serving (info on participating organizations and how to get involved in a project is on the Global Giving site), or by raising private funds.
The entire Serve America bill is a coup for Obama and for the country but, while the VfP program is great, it is also rather limited in scope in who it assists to volunteer abroad. Another bill introduced earlier this year by Sen. Feingold (D-WI) called for the establishment of a Global Service Fellowship Program, which seems to be much broader in scope:
[The] bill would reduce financial barriers by awarding fellowships designed to defray some of the costs associated with volunteering. The fellowship can be applied toward many of the costs associated with such travel including airfare, housing, or program costs. By providing financial assistance, the Global Service Fellowship program opens the door for more Americans to participate—not just those with the resources to pay for it.
This program is not a part of the Serve America Act, as VfP is, and hasn’t seen any action in Congress since early March. More updates as they come.