Category Archives: community service

Very nice calls to service by Oprah & Jon Murad (HKS) at 2013 Harvard Commencement

Jon Murad, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Kennedy School, is going off to be a cop in New York City.  His Graduate Student address  is a wonderful call to serve.

Snippets: 

“I’m probably not the only municipal cop in the country with 2 Harvard degrees, but I’m surely in a tiny cohort, but that’s not a boast but a lament. If there is something special about this place [Harvard] and the lessons that we learned here, and I believe there is, then America, the world needs people like you in these roles.  Because John Adams was dead wrong, success doesn’t mean rising to the top, it means changing the world. And here’s the secret: everyone changes the world, everything ripples. It’s how we do it that counts.

So how do we do it? Do you choose a job that serves others, as many of you have already done? Do you sign up to be a Big Sister? Do you check out Citizen Schools? Do you volunteer for Hospice? Yes…These things are the tab for your coming here when others could not. These things matter. These things may be better than making tons of money, although as a civil servant I wouldn’t really know. ”

In addition, Oprah Winfrey, the main commencement speaker, was cogent on life’s meaning.

“You will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal. There really is only one, and that is this: to fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up, your family, and the people around you.”

The key to doing that, she said, is to develop your “internal, moral, emotional GPS that can tell you which way to go.” Oprah talked about her work with the Angel Network to assist victims of Hurricanes and other adversity and implored the Harvard graduates, armed with the latest technology to be their own Angel Network.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Call the White House: Avoid a sad day for service

President Obama and Speaker John Boehner agreed to $37.6 billion in cuts for FY11.  Details are now leaking out of where those cuts will come from.  Apparently while they would largely save AmeriCorps, they would completely defund Learn and Serve America, which is the arm by which the government encourages service learning.

Service-learning integrates community service into school curricula so students learn about scientific measurement by measuring the pollution in a local streambed, or learn about the Depression or WWI through oral history projects with shut-in seniors.  The projects obviously vary depending on the underlying tie to the curriculum and the age of the students, but service learning is effective for students as young as kindergarten or as old as college-aged.

Defunding service learning ignores the fact that it is a highly cost-effective “four-fer”.  First, studies show that students learn skills better where the underlying skills that teachers want to teach are inherent to a task that students need to perform; what is called an “educational pull” rather than “educational push” approach to teaching.  Second, service learning is very inexpensive; students don’t need to be stipended, and teachers are already paid, so it is usually just the cost of materials or transportation or a part-time organizer/coordinator.  That is why the $40 million in savings from defunding Learn and Serve America represents just 3% of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s budget but generates 70% of the community service participants! Third, it gets valuable service accomplished (feeding the homeless or turning an abandoned lot into a playground).  And finally, it pays life-long returns.  Studies show that youth who engage in community service at a younger age are much more likely to be actively engaged in volunteering and other forms of civic engagement throughout their whole lives.  In that sense, down the road it likely leaves less of a need for future government since more of it is being done by active citizens; consider it preventative community maintenance.  As the maxim goes:  “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

For more information on the cuts and what you can do see YSA’s page.

For more information on the benefits of service learning, see the National Service Learning Clearinghouse or this Kellogg Foundation report.

Great day for national service

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

The number of Americans annually participating in national service programs will triple under legislation approved today by the House of Representatives and approved last week by the Senate, from 75,000 a year to 250,000 by 2017.  Especially heartening, given my experience as a senior policy advisor in the Senate on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 was the level of bipartisan support.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed the House 275-149 with almost all Democrats supporting it.  While a clear majority of Republicans were opposed, it still garnered 26 Republican votes.  The Senate had passed the same legislation last Thursday in a 78-20 vote, including 22 Republicans.  It is expected that  President Obama, who campaigned on this issue will sign it into law shortly.

The legislation creates  four new corps to address needs in low-income communities: a Clean Energy Corps (CEC) that deals with energy efficiency and conservation; an Education Corps to increase student engagement and achievement; a Healthy Futures Corps to improve access to health-care; and a Veterans Service Corps to help veterans get needed social services.  The CEC will build energy-efficient low-income housing, provide clean energy-related services designed to meet the needs of rural communities, and work with schools and youth programs to educate students and youth about ways to reduce home energy use and improve the environment.

The bill creates new programs for a wide range of age groups. A new Summer of Service program for middle- and high-school students encourages them to volunteer in their communities by allowing them to earn $500 to be used toward college costs. Students will be eligible to participate in two terms, earning up to $1,000. The Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships are two programs that offer Americans age 55 or older post-career service opportunities, as well as a way into new careers in the nonprofit or public sector. The federal education reward that volunteers receive for their service, rises to $5,350 starting next year, from the current $4,725 and is then indexed to increases in Pell grants.

The bill also dramatically strengthens service learning — using community service projects as a vehicle to strengthen and enforce academic learning in schools.  [Studies have found that service learning can be an especially effective way to teach since the service projects often require underlying academic skills which students are more motivated to learn or practice if they understand their relevance, and which students remember better afterwards.  An example might be teaching students about scientific measurement by measuring pollution in a river and sharing these results with local environmental groups or officials.]

National service has huge ripple effects on volunteering.  The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees the AmeriCorps program, estimates that the 75,000 AmeriCorps members who served last year  supervised 2.2 million community volunteers.

Interest in volunteering is rising amid the worsening economy, the sheen that President Obama has given to this issue, and the coming of age of a more altruistic generation, many who got exposure to volunteering in school.   But the economic downturn has also hit the younger generation harder.  Of the 1.2 million jobs lost last year, 60% were held by workers under the age of 25, according to the office of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.).

There were 9,731 applications submitted to the AmeriCorps online system last month, over triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008.  In 2007, more than 61 million Americans spent over 8 billion hours volunteering. More than a quarter of young Americans 16-25 have volunteered. And nearly 65,000 college students prepared to do volunteer work for spring break this year, up 11% over last year.

“The silver lining of economic downturns is that more Americans, especially Millennials, are flocking to public-service positions,” said Sandy Scott, CNCS spokesman.

Investing in service also leverages impressive economic returns. In 2007, volunteers generated $158 billion worth of economic benefits. A cost-benefit analysis of AmeriCorps, for example, showed that every $1 invested produced returns of $1.50 to $3.90 in direct measurable benefits.

As Patrick Kennedy said on the floor of the House before passage: ” There’s an old saying that reads, ‘The most sacred thing one person can give another, outside of their love, is their labor.’  That goes to the core of why supporting programs that promote volunteerism and community service is so important..”

Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee noted on the floor of the House:

History has shown that in times of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit and generosity of the American people is one of our nation’s greatest assets….We see this every single day. In the past week, North and South Dakota have been in a state of emergency, with communities facing severe flooding as the snow melts. As they have in so many other times of disaster, Americans showed up to help. Officials estimate that there are tens of thousands of volunteers who have already been on the ground for days, lining the shores of the river with over 1.5 million sandbags to help stop the flooding. In Fargo, a city with a population of 90,000, 80,000 volunteers showed up to help.They’ve driven through treacherous conditions from Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and beyond, ready to serve and ready to help….This legislation is just what we need, at this pivotal moment, to get our nation back on track.

President Obama commented: “”I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country.”

A summary of the legislation is available here.

A summary of the service learning provisions is available here.

In the run-up to the bill being passed there were also strong editorials or op-eds:

Bruce Reed and John Bridgeland , Volunteer to Save the Economy, NYT op-ed (1/23/09), noting that since those doing national service cost far less, they could provide an outsize economic stimulus per dollar invested.

The Moment for National Service, NYT Editorial (1/26/09)

Colin Powell, Let’s Renew America Together, WSJ Op-Ed (1/17/09), discussing the importance of USAservice.org

[I]n times of need…, [t]his is not a time to retreat to our homes and wait until it’s safe to emerge. It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation’s unrivaled capacity for good….You don’t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don’t have to work in government. And you don’t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.

Read previous Social Capital blog posts on the importance of national service.

What is your pledge for America?

I was moved by Barack Obama’s invocation of the social progress we have made in a lifetime — as he put it, “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Obama’s inauguration speech also called upon Americans to return to the inspirational examples of our forebears acting in service to others (to their friends, their communities, the generations to follow):

“As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Husband and wife Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher called on their Hollywood friends to pledge what THEY were doing or planning on doing to make the world better and ask you to do the same.  Is this the same Ashton Kutcher of Punk’d fame, or did he have a conversion experience?  It’s a moving video nonetheless and let’s hear it for second lives. [You can also play ‘name that celebrity….’

Obama push for citizen service

The incoming Obama administration has spun their service effort into USAservice.org.

They are planning day-of-service events over the inauguration (which could be significant with 2-3 million Americans descending on our nation’s capital).  Their longer-term plans are less clear, but they have in the works plans to spotlight civilian service over MLK holiday weekend.

Buffy Wicks in this video explaining their efforts of “Renew America Together”, which is being launched the day before the Inauguration.

If you’re interested in this topic, read Nancy Scola (for TechPresident) on their service plans for MLK weekend.  They aspire to “reignite the American tradition of service and volunteerism and to that end the current call to action [on MLK’s birthday] is viewed as a starting point.”

This type of initiative  is one of the reasons that I’m optimistic about the role that the Obama bullypulpit may play in a revitalization of social capital in the US.  It is always critical in these “Days of Service” that it be a starting point (ultimately interesting Americans in more regular service to others) rather than an end in itself.

Former Saguaro participant Jim Wallis (of Sojourner’s), who has been on the Obama transition advisory team on civil society and faith-based organizations, notes that he is calling the MLK day speech by Obama and service-day “an altar call to take action in our own lives and families, our local communities, and in our nation on the big issues that we face. We have been exploring the possibilities of not just service but all kinds of civil action, including community organizing and advocacy on social justice issues. The president-elect will be giving a call to action on that day before he addresses the nation in his inaugural ceremony the next day.”

Jonathan Alter has a well-reasoned Newsweek piece (“Don’t Muffle the Call to Serve“) on how national service might be an inexpensive way of stimulating our economy while accomplishing a lot of the useful rebuilding we need to get done.  It echoes David Brooks’ NYT column from Dec. 9 (This Old House”).  Here are some excerpts of Alter’s column:

The day before the inauguration is the Martin Luther King holiday, and the president-elect wants it to be devoted to service. But Barack Obama knows that one Monday of good deeds—even if it becomes an annual tradition when people help each other rather than sit home watching TV—isn’t enough. Throughout the campaign, he talked about something much bigger—a new era of civic engagement, with a quarter-million young people helping pay for their education by serving their country at home and abroad.

But as Mario Cuomo is fond of pointing out, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. This year, you transition in prose, too. That means the dreams of the Obama Generation are in danger of being deferred even before their man takes office. The economists confronting the present crisis apparently don’t have a lot of time for programs like AmeriCorps, which uses a network of local and national nonprofits to employ 75,000 mostly young Americans to teach kids to read, to run after-school programs, to build affordable housing, to clean parks and streams, among many other service projects. The brainiacs aren’t sure these do-gooders are relevant to recovery. They’re wrong about that, in more ways than one.

This is why:

…[F]or 1 percent of the stimulus, about $7 billion, Obama could create 8 percent of the 3 million new jobs he has promised. Those 250,000 new national-service slots would simultaneously fulfill his campaign pledge to young people. And with 15 years of scandal-free AmeriCorps apparatus in place, service jobs can be established with Rooseveltian speed, an important criteria for inclusion in the stimulus. At about $20,000 each, AmeriCorps jobs are also much less expensive than those in construction.

The other standard Obama has wisely applied to the package is that every dollar spent should help the country long-term. Thus the projects enumerated by Summers would rebuild infrastructure, lessen dependence on foreign oil and reduce health-care costs. But investing in human capital is every bit as critical for the future. Service develops the talents of those who perform it as well as those they help. It changes lives. And communitarian thinking is contagious. Each year, AmeriCorps’s 75,000 full-time members leverage another 1.7 million volunteers.

More to Give: the unfilled potential of senior service

We worked with Civic Enterprises on a report, sponsored by AARP on the fact that leaders and government are not doing enough to fully engage seniors in service.  The report More to Give: Tapping the Potential of the Baby Boomer, Silent and Greatest Generation, with an introduction by our own Robert Putnam, ex-Senator Harris Wofford (a long-time champion for service), and John Bridgeland (head of Civic Enterprises), outlines seniors’ fears that they will leave the country in worse shape, but notes how many of this cohort expect to increase their service in their retirement years, and notes how various government or private-sector programs could play a big role in increasing this service (e.g., a better information pipeline of how to get involved, enabling those who serve to get educational awards that can be shared with seniors’ grandchildren or other young needy Americans, or expanding some of the cost-effective governmental programs).  The program reports on findings from focus groups and a new large-scale survey of Boomers, the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation.

Transforming 9-11 Into a Day of Service

The movement to transform 9-11 into an annual day of service picked up some momentum this year. MyGoodDeed.org, the nonprofit founded in 2003 by friends and relatives of 9-11 victims, gained two important allies this year in their quest: ServiceNation and the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. ServiceNation is a coalition of more than 600 nonprofit groups nationwide which is hosting the two presidential candidates in a civic engagement forum in New York on Sept. 11.   Obama and McCain have agreed to MyGoodDeed.org’s request that they suspend campaigning and negative advertising on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks this year, and instead engage in voluntary service.

“The anniversary of September 11 should be officially recognized as a national day of charitable service to honor the 9/11 victims, volunteers and rescue and recovery workers of Ground Zero,” said David Paine, president of MyGoodDeed.org. “All of us can best honor the memory of those lost by engaging in good deeds, community service and other charitable acts to rekindle the remarkable spirit of unity that existed following the 9/11 tragedy.”

New York Cares has agreed to organize 9-11 service projects together with MyGoodDeed.org to also carry out this vision of transforming the day into a day of service.

Details of the program can be found at ServiceNation‘s website, which includes members of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation attending MyGoodDeed.org’s signature service project on September 11 at PS 124, a public elementary school in the Chinatown community in downtown Manhattan.

The 25-member Council, created by Executive Order of the President of the United States in 2003, includes actors Stephen Baldwin, Patricia Heaton and Hillary Duff; NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne; Art Linkletter; journalist Cokie Roberts; and other prominent individuals. [List available here.] The Council recognizes the important contributions Americans of all ages are making within their communities through service and civic engagement.

ServiceNation’s summit meeting on national service in New York City on September 11-12, is expected to be attended by more than 500 influential delegates from throughout the nonprofit community. Caroline Kennedy and Alma Powell are co-chairs, and Barack Obama, John McCain, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other nationally prominent figures are expected to participate.

ServiceNation was the brainchild of BeTheChange, CivicEnterprises, CityYear and the Points of Light Foundation (which recently merged with HandsOnNetwork and is now led by HandsOnNetwork founder Michelle Nunn). The vision of ServiceNation is “an America in which, by 2020, 100 million citizens will volunteer time in schools, workplaces, and faith-based and community institutions each and every year (up from 61 million today), and that increasing numbers of Americans annually will commit a year of their lives to national service.”

On a related note:  the forthcoming issue of TIME magazine has a cover story on national service, and I’ve contributed a mini-essay on the importance and promise of national service in building cross-racial bonds.

Background on MyGoodDeed: Each year since the 2001 attacks, the MyGoodDeed.org movement has sought to inspire millions of people from around the nation and world to perform good deeds, volunteer and engage in other charitable and civic activities on the anniversary of the attacks, in honor of the victims, volunteers and rescue and recovery workers. In 2007, more than 300,000 good deeds were posted on the MyGoodDeed.org Website by participants from all 50 U.S. states and 150 different countries and territories.

Founded in 2003 by two close friends, David Paine and Jay Winuk, following the death of Jay’s brother, attorney and volunteer firefighter Glenn Winuk, who perished in the line of duty on September 11, 2001, MyGoodDeed.org has gained widespread bipartisan and bicameral support. In 2004, the MyGoodDeed organization worked closely with Congressional leaders to secure unanimous passage of H. Con. Res. 473, urging the designation of 9/11 as a national day of service, charity and compassion.