It’s Time to Usher in a New Era of Citizen Service

As President Obama voices a theme of renewal for the country, the U.S. Senate has a historic opportunity to transform life for millions of Americans.

As people yearn for economic recovery, the Senate is debating an innovative bill that will join people across the country in diverse volunteer work, vital to stimulating the economy.

At issue is the Serve America Act, a comprehensive measure that provides opportunities for increased national service and volunteerism for Americans of all ages, including millions of people over 55 whose expertise and experience can help advance our country’s recovery.  While we often think of youth when we hear of community service – a crucial priority of our society – we can ill afford to neglect the untapped reservoir of talent, and knowledge of millions of older Americans.

By choice, commitment, and good fortune, I have worked on behalf of older people for my entire career, witnessing the power of civic engagement by people over 55. But there has never been a time like now, when the need for older volunteers is crucial as the demands and needs for service escalate and organizations struggle to survive with less.

The Serve America Act is a way to help turn the economy on course, through a new era of citizen service that embraces young and old through community-driven initiatives.

As we all wonder about what’s ahead, when and if the economy will recover, it’s invigorating to know that one essential part of the solution is at hand.  It’s good to know that the Serve America Act will help create a new economy so there will be productivity and more jobs.  It’s exciting to consider the range of opportunities that will be created for adults age 55 and over to serve the public interest, in ways that will provide resources to strengthen community-based service organizations at a time when they need additional people power to meet the increasing needs of their communities.

The beauty of this bill is its incentives to expand and advance existing service programs into the 21st century, which will usher in a new era of personal and civic renewal – one that will challenge older Americans to give their very best to strengthen our social fabric.

For those who might question the vitality of the over 50 generation, the movement toward personal responsibility for health and advances in medicine and technology have added a new life chapter for people – for most an additional 20 -30 years between 60 and 90, during which many people remain healthy, vital, and active.  People who have a lot of experience under their belts, whether as doctors, plumbers, lawyers or carpenters.

It is time to acknowledge this new life stage and establish service to others as one of its defining characteristics.  Provisions in the Serve America Act provide ways to do this and to help change how America views aging.

As President Obama said in his press conference Tuesday night, “One of the most important lessons to learn from this crisis is that our economy only works if we recognize that we’re all in this together.”  That is exactly what the Serve America Act is all about:  sparking a collaborative process by which community residents rally to reach common goals, engage in collective decisions, and create rich places in which to grow up and grow old.

That is why it is critical for the Senate to take swift action on the Serve America Act.

Tags 111th United States Congress Barack Obama Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act Illinois Obama Person Career Presidency of Barack Obama Quotation Social Issues United States

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