In this season when Americans everywhere hope for spirits to be lifted, it is high time, despite the prevailing partisan rancor, to rediscover and reaffirm the value of service. As the country struggles to get the economy moving forward and families and communities are seeking new and cost-effective ways to solve the problems they face, those participating in citizen service across the country are quietly rolling up their sleeves and bringing new ideas and new energy to solving the problems related to education, affordable housing, energy and much more.
In hard-pressed schools and overwhelmed community agencies and local nonprofits across the country, leaders are looking to national service as a cost-effective way to relieve the stress and strain caused by unemployment and by budget cuts at every level of government.
Whether they are helping principals and teachers by tutoring and mentoring students during the school day, running after-school programs, or assisting food banks and other social service agencies by providing low-cost, high-yield “boots on the ground,” those engaged in national service are often the unsung heroes who are bringing help and hope to those most in need.
Americans young and old are ready to answer the call to serve. Last year there were some 500,000 applicants for 80,000 AmeriCorps positions. About half of these service positions are full-time, for up to a year, with modest living expense stipends. After the term of service, educational awards are offered to help pay for college or job training, or pay off student loans.
Whether the service is in relatively new programs like Teach for America, City Year, and the National Civilian Community Corps or in long-standing service programs like Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Clubs, or the Red Cross, all of them can be pathways to future jobs and careers. Young people particularly are looking for opportunities to serve their country, and the country more than ever before needs their effort, creativity and passion.
So it is time not just to protect the existing funding under the Kennedy Serve America Act, but to invest in the expansion called for by that Act. Getting back on the track toward the bold and large vision laid out in that Act can be a significant and helpful way to get America back on the track.
A former PA Senator, Harris Wofford served as the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service under President Clinton.