A Year of Service

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

By Tim McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility at American Express and president of the American Express Foundation

This post originally appeared on CSR Now! here.
Recently, I participated in a New York City Service Summit, hosted by NYC Service, United Way of New York City and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, which was intended to discuss proposals to expand a culture of service in the United States. 

The major focus of the discussion centered on The Franklin Project, a new national effort that envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service - a service year - is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American. 
Specifically, the organizers of The Franklin Project (mainly The Aspen Institute, The National Conference on Citizenship and others) would like to create a national movement where young Americans discharge their national service obligation by either serving in the military or by completing a full-time civilian service year through programs such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps or other nonprofit organizations. The service year could be completed at some point between the ages of 18 and 28. 
The organizers believe that spending a full-year in full-time service is potentially transformative experience for young citizens and future leaders, and that creating a culture of obligation to participate in such an experience would promote the idea that citizenship requires more from each of us than is currently expected. Their goal is to create a system that includes one million service year positions (roughly matching the number of people who serve in the military) by 2023. 
Because it's unlikely that a mandatory year of service would ever be enacted by the Federal government, this effort seeks to encourage nonprofit organizations to create these full-time service year opportunities, and for corporations, foundations, government agencies, and private citizens to fund them. In order for a position to qualify, it would have to be full-time for at least 10 months and pay a "below market" wage that is equivalent to what AmeriCorps currently pays its members. 
According to The Franklin Project's staff, AmeriCorps, Vista and the Peace Corps currently receive about 600,000 applications for about 100,000 positions, which are funded by Congress. Of these about 5,000 are in New York City. The goal is to reach one million per year with about 60,000 of those being in New York City. 
Research conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that 27 percent of U.S. residents currently volunteer. In New York State, that number is 21 percent, and in New York City it's 18 percent. However, research shows that nationwide about 55 percent of young people ages 12-18 currently volunteer. So, Mayor de Blasio would like to utilize this national movement to increase volunteer efforts in New York City, and he's enlisted NYC Service and the United Way to assist with this objective. 
The Franklin Project is creating a web site, which will act as a clearinghouse for nonprofit organizations that have eligible full-time positions, and for individuals who are seeking these opportunities. They are also preparing a national recruiting effort aimed at young people and students of all backgrounds through social media and other outlets. 
What do you think? Is creating a Year of Service as a national movement a good idea? Do you think that it will strengthen civic engagement in the United States? Are you prepared to participate in some way?
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