From: John Bridgeland <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, Jul 10, 2015 at 8:08 AM
Subject: National Service Can Help Heal Our Nation
To: John Bridgeland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
National service can help heal our nation
Communities across America are fraying. Trust in one another and in key institutions are at their lowest levels in generations. We see the effects all around us — in places of tragedy such as Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston; in places on the other side of the tracks where children of low- and middle-income families no longer do better than their parents; and in statehouses and Congress, where not knowing one another leads members to division and paralysis.
Americans lack opportunities for shared experiences that can remind us of our common heritage of both freedom and responsibility.
Unlike so many generations before us that stepped up to serve in war and peace, we see an easy citizenship today, where a minority of Americans vote and a majority pay their taxes, but not much else is required. For the first time ever during war, less than 1 percent are serving in our military. Most of the indicators of the country's civic health are down dramatically over the last 40 years.
America needs national service — opportunities for young Americans ages 18 to 28 to come together across lines of race, ethnicity, income, political affiliation and geography — to awaken our civic spirit. This is not some naïve notion, but fundamental to American identity and progress. Citizens are cultivated by shared experiences, not just born with entitlements.
The private sector is stepping up to do its part. Leaders in Silicon Valley are helping develop a Service Year Exchange that, for the first time, will qualify nonprofits, colleges and social enterprises to offer service year opportunities and enable young people to crowdfund to pay for their living stipends. Colleges will offer course credit. Employers will value national service credentials.
Private companies and foundations invest close to $1 billion in national service programs each year. President Barack Obama championed the bipartisan Serve America Act that authorized national service slots to grow to 250,000 a year.
The leadership council of the Franklin Project at The Aspen Institute — chaired by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including former secretaries of State and Defense from Republican and Democratic administrations; U.S. senators from both parties; and leaders from the private sector, higher education, philanthropies and nonprofits — has signed on to a plan of action to provide 1 million service-year positions each year, which will put civilian national service on par with military service. They envision a future in which a year of full-time civilian national service is a common expectation and a civic rite of passage for all young Americans.
Yet Congress is proposing to devastate existing national service programs, such as AmeriCorps — an organization that President George H.W. Bush seeded, President Bill Clinton launched and President George W. Bush increased by 50 percent.
Programs on the chopping block include those that support peer mentors and tutors who are doubling math and reading scores for students in some of the lowest-performing schools; that engage young people who are disconnected from school and work (costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year) to build homes for the poor and skills for themselves; and that reconnect veterans to college, work and community as they transition from war.
A House proposal would cut AmeriCorps membership from 80,000 to 40,000 and eliminate the National Civilian Community Corps as we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, after which leaders of both parties lauded those corps as among the most effective responses. The Social Innovation Fund, which has leveraged three private dollars for every government dollar to support innovative solutions to public problems, would be ended. And 50,000 education awards for people who serve our country and earn some help to pay for college would be eliminated.
Congress is cutting the very programs that build citizens' trust among each other, solve problems and save taxpayers money.
American voters already get it. Despite concern about government spending, more than three in four (including 66 percent of Republicans) say that increasing funding for national service would be worthwhile. Eighty percent support voluntary large-scale national service.
A much deeper commitment to national service should be part of the response to tragedies in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and other communities across America. Neighborhoods in Baltimore, such as Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, have unemployment rates of up to 52 percent among 16- to 24-year-olds. Re-imagine those neighborhoods if the country offered national service positions to all of those young people to enlist their energy to contribute to their own community.
As debate swirls around the Confederate flag in South Carolina and other states, imagine how different it would be if young people spent a year in service working side-by-side with people of different backgrounds, as they do in national service programs such as City Year, Teach for America, Public Allies, LIFT, YouthBuild, Food Corps and Habitat for Humanity. We wonder what police-community relations would be like if more young people were working side-by-side in communities as they are in Anacostia with the Washington, D.C., Police Department to conserve rivers and parks.
Imagine what the U.S. Congress could do if more of its members had performed a year or more of national service working with people of different political beliefs.
We know national service works. As citizens, we are all stakeholders in the civic health of our nation. Let's call on Congress and the president to confront these troubled times with support for an American idea of shared renewal and join together in rebuilding a greater sense of "we" in our communities and country.
John Bridgeland, an Ohio native, is CEO of Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm in Washington, D.C., and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council in President George W. Bush's administration. Alan Khazei is founder & CEO of Be the Change Inc. and co-founder of City Year. They are co-chairs of the Franklin Project on national service at The Aspen Institute.