Flint National Service Accelerator offers model for communities nationwide

A group of smiling volunteers stand in front of an American Red Cross vehicle.
AmeriCorps members joined Red Cross volunteers to help Flint citizens during the water crisis. Photo: Cristina Wright

Beginning as a small, local experiment, the Flint National Service Accelerator has grown into a powerful model of how to harness national service to tackle community-defined priorities.

The first such model in the United States, the Flint Accelerator, which is administered by the United Way of Genesee County, helps local nonprofits magnify people power by recruiting, training and placing national service members where they’re needed most. The Accelerator also is cost effective; it expands college and career pathways — and it works. In 2019 alone, National Civilian Community Corps members served more than 10,000 hours in Flint, distributed 16,000 pounds of food, supported more than 1,000 students, and removed over 113,000 pounds of debris, trash and overgrown vegetation.

These are just a few of the reasons why the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has supported the model’s development and growth since its inception. It’s also why Service Year Alliance, with a $300,000 grant from Mott, hosted a national convening on the Flint model in August and launched the National Service Community Challenge Grants program.

“There’s too much to be done in the world for communities and nonprofit organizations to have to completely reinvent the wheel when they want to tap into the power of national service,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation. “That’s why, when Service Year Alliance asked us to support a convening to share the Flint approach and its potential to amplify what service members can accomplish, we were happy to do so.

“We’re also happy to support four grants of $25,000 each to kickstart efforts in communities that can raise matching funds because we’ve witnessed firsthand the power of national service.”

In her opening remarks to the Flint Convening, which brought together leaders from 30 communities across the country, Kristen Bennett, chief strategy officer at Service Year said, “The success of the Flint Accelerator is something we believe should serve as a model for all communities as they set their sights on using national service.”

Service Year Alliance’s National Service Community Challenge Grants are designed to help communities inspired by the Flint Accelerator to craft their own national service strategy to address local needs. To learn more, visit the Service Year Alliance website.