Two Nevadans with a passion for service have been invited to meet the president and first lady of the United States.
Janice Ayres, executive director of the state RSVP program, and Shawn Lecker, executive director of the Nevada Commission for National and Community Service, will be recognized for their work Oct. 20 on behalf of the AmeriCorps program.
Ayres, service commission chairwoman, and Lecker received word Monday that they were to be honored at a service on the White House lawn with representatives from each state's service commission.
"I keep pinching myself saying is this me? Is this my life? Did I really get a call from the White House today?" Lecker said. "This is probably one of the greatest honors of my life. However, I feel all the honor belongs to the AmeriCorps volunteers out there working in the field."
Ayres joked she was invited because she is so outstanding.
"I've been to Washington, D.C., but I've never been to the White House," she said. "I'm very excited. I never expected in my lifetime that I would be invited.
"Somebody said 'Knowing Janice, she'll shake the president's hand and ask for more money.' I'm going to get my word in because I'm very proud of our volunteers."
President Bill Clinton started AmeriCorps, a national network of service programs, five years ago to encourage volunteering. Since then, about 150,000 people have served in the program which is a sort of domestic Peace Corps. Volunteers serve in communities throughout the U.S. They receive a small living allowance and are awarded a college scholarship of $4,725 at the end of their service which can last up to a year.
Former Gov. Bob Miller started Nevada's commission in 1994. The commission has a 15-member board which monitors Nevada's AmeriCorps volunteers. Programs in Nevada include RSVP, Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, Learn & Serve and the America Reads Challenge.
Lecker points proudly to an AmeriCorps-supported program through the Las Vegas Boys and Girls Clubs and Clark County School District. She said volunteers helped raise reading scores by a grade and a half of more than 400 children, the majority for which English was a second language.
The commission has a $1.1 million budget this year that will help the same Las Vegas program, a Washoe County Statewide America Reads tutoring and family literacy program, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe America Reads program and an environmental service-learning program for high-risk youth through the University of Nevada, Reno.
The program was facing a budget crisis last year. Ayres worked with the Corporation for National Service, the national forum for AmeriCorps, and the state legislature to secure the funding to save the commission as well as to give it non-profit status.
Ayres said volunteering is an excellent thing for anyone to get involved in, especially older people.
"I think that retirement is the worse thing anyone came up with," Ayers said. "It's highly overrated.
"A lot of people handle retirement well. Some are financially set and can travel, but even traveling gets old. People find out they've done everything. Even fishing gets old, and they find themselves with time on their hands
"When people get up and go do something for somebody else they feel real proud of it. The president recognized this sometime back when he said volunteering is where it's at. It's the backbone of our country."
For information on AmeriCorps check out www.americorps.org or www.cns.gov. Call 775-423-1461 for information on Nevada's Commission for National and Community Service.