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Heeding the Call to Help : AmeriCorps' Push for Domestic Service Matched Perfectly With Garland Robinson's Desire to Help People

October 23, 1994|GARLAND ROBINSON | Garland Robinson is a 44-year-old who recently graduated from USC. A husband and father, he put off his graduate studies to "help serve the people and try to make a difference" in AmeriCorps, President Clinton's domestic service organization. One of 20,000 volunteers nationwide, Robinson is a team leader for the Interfaith Hunger Coalition, which has taken an aggressive approach to fighting hunger and homelessness in Southern California. "We are all part of the same team, out there trying to alleviate hunger and bring joy to as many people as we can," Robinson said. "It hits me inside because I am one of the people too. I know I'm not God, and I'm not trying to be. Everybody has a job to do on this Earth, and I feel my calling is to help." He was interviewed by Jaymi Goldberg. and

I have, over the last five years, laid awake at night thinking about how I can make a change, and here it is. The dream has come true for me. I am making a difference.

When I was in school working to get my degree in political science at USC, all I could think about was wanting to help people. That's why I chose political science.

I thought with a political science degree I would be able to get in there and do something for the people. But all a political science degree was doing was getting me involved with the legislative part. I'm against more legislation. I didn't have any interest in legislation.

When I would go and try to get a job pertaining to social work I was turned down because I didn't have any social work experience.

I was planning to go back to school in the fall of '95 to get a master's degree and learn more about social work, and then one Sunday morning I was reading the classifieds with my wife, Myra, and I saw the ad for AmeriCorps. It felt like destiny. I felt that same thing again being sworn in by President Clinton. It was beautiful. Just the anticipation of what we were about to do, and what we were all a part of.

We're on a 10-month program that will be over in July. After that, politicians will evaluate the 10 months, go back to Washington, get a report and see if more money can be appropriated. It's a lot of political red tape.

This means a lot to a lot of people. Their lives depend on this. For it to be canceled would be devastating. These people feel good about themselves, they have that gleam in their eyes. I wouldn't want to be the one to disappoint them if this program doesn't continue.

It gives me a sense of satisfaction every time I see the hope on people's faces--the people we are helping, and also the people who have dedicated their time to AmeriCorps, toward helping people. These people have really dedicated themselves to this, and they just want to be a part of something. They're representing their community. Something's getting done. We're the foot soldiers. We're marching, we're praying, we're feeding and we're making a difference.

I was able to witness a most hideous sight the other day at the First Nazarene Church of Los Angeles. We were feeding the homeless on a Friday, and they took us on a tour of the church. They showed us this window on the third floor where they used to feed the homeless before they developed a better system. It was barbaric--treating them like they were animals, throwing bags of food out the windows.

I was disturbed and mad as hell. I said, "How can this be?" Situations like that happen out of fear. People are afraid of the homeless. They're afraid because of stereotypes that aren't true. They're afraid because of the perpetration of myths, and that fear keeps building until you have civil unrest. I will never forget that for the rest of my life. And I'll never forget how thankful the people were when they came in and sat down and had prayer, and talked and ate with us.

We are not there to distance ourselves from anyone. We sit down at the table and eat and talk with the people. We don't sit at another table and look at them like they have a problem. They're people. They're our people, and we can't discard our own.

That's what AmeriCorps is all about--people speaking up and having a sense of respect and dignity. It means that there's a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, in spite of everything that's been said and everything that's been predicted for the future. There's hope for the future. Armageddon is going to be held up for a while by AmeriCorps. I think there's enough good people in the world who are waiting to be called to duty to help and make a change. I would stake my life on that.

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