Advancing Equity at AmeriCorps
On behalf of AmeriCorps, I am pleased to share the agency’s Equity Action Plan. On the first day of the Biden-Harris Administration, President Biden signed Executive Order 13985 on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which called for a comprehensive approach to transform the federal government into a fairer and more equitable entity. President Biden challenged every agency to embed these principles in the daily practices by which government serves its people. The Order further directed agencies to:
- establish the critical role and responsibility of an Agency Equity Team;
- conduct an agency equity assessment; and
- create a meaningful action plan that addresses the barriers and opportunities identified by stakeholders and the workforce during the assessment process.
The administration’s commitment to advancing equity and supporting underserved communities not only reinforces equity work at AmeriCorps, but also bolsters the country’s efforts to act nationwide.
AmeriCorps’ Approach to Advancing Equity
AmeriCorps is committed to evaluating and addressing barriers to advance racial equity and support underserved communities. In June 2020, the agency launched a cross-agency initiative to evaluate and deepen our culture and understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). The goal was clear: “The elimination of racial inequity and promotion of equal treatment to all within the AmeriCorps family.” The focus on equity in the Biden-Harris Administration and the accompanying executive orders allowed us to strengthen and elevate our work that was already in action.
AmeriCorps is guided by its strategic plan, which establishes DEIA as its foundation. I appreciate the diligent efforts and thoughtful input from our national service family that informed the construction of both our Strategic Plan and Equity Action Plan. The agency is committed to creating structural and lasting change in our grantmaking, member recruitment and retention, and equity in our workplace. We are on a steady course to achieving these goals and our approach is gaining momentum during implementation.
Let’s Move Forward Together
This is only the beginning of AmeriCorps’ journey. We will further advance equity and support underserved communities by ensuring national service and volunteerism embodies the diversity of America and is accessible to all. I hope you join us on this journey as we continue to listen, learn, and strengthen equity in national service.
Michael D. Smith
Chief Executive Officer
AmeriCorps Agency Equity Plan
AmeriCorps' Equity Action Plan focuses on five key areas:
Advancing Civil Rights: At the core of equity are the laws, regulations, and policies that serve as its foundation. We are committed to full compliance with these laws and ensuring our grantees have the necessary training and tools.
Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Corps: We must increase representation in our national service corps from the communities we serve. We plan to do this by providing greater access to national service opportunities and benefits for people from underserved communities.
Partnering with Native Communities: Our responsibilities to American Indians and Alaskan Natives and our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribal governments is driven by our Committee on Native American Affairs, which has supported our prioritized actions in this area to address longstanding barriers.
Addressing Limited English Proficiency and Ensuring Language Access: Advancing equity through our resources and opportunities is impossible if they are not accessible. We must ensure that anyone, despite their level of English proficiency, can access our resources and service opportunities.
Increasing Equity in our Procurement Process: Much of how we accomplish our mission has to do with the vendors and contractors we utilize. Their services, experience, and diverse backgrounds are critical to advancing equity at AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps Agency Equity Team
In line with Executive Order 13985, AmeriCorps established its Agency Equity Team, which represents an enterprise-wide cadre of leaders and key DEIA stakeholders. The AmeriCorps Agency Equity Team is leading the implementation of the Equity Action Plan and is serves as the agency’s accountability hub for DEIA implementation.
AmeriCorps Agency Equity Team Members:
- Affinity Group Advisory Council Representative
- Associate Director of Policy
- Chief Data Officer
- Chief Financial Officer
- Chief Human Capital Officer
- Chief Information Officer
- Chief of External Affairs
- Chief of Program Operations
- Chief of Staff
- Chief Operating Officer
- Chief Risk Officer
- Deputy Chief of Program Operations
- Deputy Chief of Staff
- Director, AmeriCorps NCCC
- Director, AmeriCorps Seniors
- Director, AmeriCorps State and National
- Director, AmeriCorps VISTA
- Director, Government Relations
- Director, Office of Civil Rights
- Director, Office of Grant Admission
- Director, Office of Procurement Services
- Director, Office of Recruitment
- Director, Regional Operations
- Director, Research & Evaluation
- Director, Workforce Relations
- General Counsel
- Project Manager, Planning and Cross Agency Initiatives
- Senior Advisor for COVID-19
- Senior Advisor for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
- Senior Advisor for Special Projects
- Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships
- Senior Advisor for Wounded Warrior Veteran and Military Families
- Team Lead for Employee Development, Office of Human Capital
Notable Equity-Related Accomplishments
AmeriCorps engaged with stakeholders to conduct a DEIA assessment of three key areas of operations: fostering an equitable workplace; promoting equitable grantmaking; and recruiting and retaining a diverse corps of AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers. Stakeholder input strongly influenced the recommendations from the employee-driven DEIA initiative, the agency’s Equity Action Plan, and the FY 2021-FY 2025 AmeriCorps Strategic Plan development. AmeriCorps implemented a variety of stakeholder engagement strategies:
- Workforce-Driven DEIA Assessment and Workforce Survey – The 2020 DEIA initiative was driven by more than 50 passionate volunteers from across the AmeriCorps workforce who spent months evaluating agency operations, assessing barriers to advancing DEIA, and supporting underserved communities.
- Stakeholder Engagement Panels – AmeriCorps hosted three stakeholder engagement panels which included representatives from four association partners: Americas Service Commission, Voices for National Service, Service Year Alliance, and AmeriCorps Seniors Association. Panelists also included grantees from AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors programs: VISTA, AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps NCCC. Representation from the Office of Regional Operations included current and former staff members. AmeriCorps asked panelists the following questions:
- Within your own program (AmeriCorps VISTA, State & National, NCCC) what are barriers for you in applying, partnering, grant management, or other requirements that make it difficult to partner with us? What are specific immediate and longer-term changes we should consider to make our programming more accessible?
- What would you identify as the top three barriers to starting service for applicants from diverse backgrounds? What would you identify as the top three barriers to continuing/completing service for members from diverse backgrounds?
- What assistance would be beneficial for AmeriCorps to offer throughout the process (from proposal writing through grant management) to make our funding more accessible (planning grants, increased technical assistance, etc.)?
- What should stronger outreach and recruitment to new applicants look like? Do you have recommendations for us as an agency on ways to reach out and recruit more potential applicants working in Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities?
- What are specific funding priorities or performance measures would allow you to focus your work more on diverse communities (BIPOC, LGBTQ, etc.)?
- Tribal Consultation – In April 2021, AmeriCorps hosted a Tribal consultation with Tribal leaders to ensure that AmeriCorps is equitable, fair, and accessible to Tribal nations. This allowed the agency to learn more about what is working, what is not working, and to make sure opportunities and resources meet the needs of Tribal nations. Participants were asked to share feedback on the following:
- Barriers for Tribal communities to access AmeriCorps resources, for members to serve with AmeriCorps and to achieve compliance with grants requirements.
- Ways AmeriCorps can support COVID response and recovery.
- Ways AmeriCorps can support veterans and military families.
- How AmeriCorps can more effectively consult and strengthen communications and relationships.
- Best practices from other agencies AmeriCorps should review.
- Ways to use technology to solicit tribal feedback on policies and activities.
- Ways to disseminate information that is most relevant.
- Request for Information – As part of AmeriCorps’ ARP investment, the agency pledged to create new national service opportunities; increase benefits for service members; and support nonprofit, Tribal, and community organizations that support underserved communities. To do this, AmeriCorps looked further into the barriers programs and members face. In accordance with Executive Order 13985 and as part of the agency’s commitment to DEIA, AmeriCorps launched a Request for Information (RFI), which closed on August 2, 2021, inviting public comment from any interested party, including current and former AmeriCorps program award recipients. Respondents relayed comments regarding any barriers that they, or the communities they served, faced in accessing benefits and services offered by AmeriCorps’ programs. This request gave the agency insight from members, volunteers, the broader national service community, and outside voices. AmeriCorps received over 600 comments, significant for a small agency, with the overwhelming majority focused on the value of the AmeriCorps living allowance and end of service Eli Segal Education award benefit. The comments were further analyzed by the Office of Research and Evaluation and supported a compelling case for increasing the living allowance and expanding flexibilities for the use of the Eli Segal Education End-of-Service Award.
AmeriCorps looks forward to continuing to engage with national service stakeholders and the public. We will be announcing opportunities to share input on the plan in the coming months.