Friday, September 19, 2008

Agents for Change in Addressing Community Challenges

On September 8, 2008, President Bush addressed a large crowd of service volunteers on the south lawn of the White House. He took this opportunity to show his appreciation for the time and effort given by members of the military, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and his initiatives, the USA Freedom Corps and the Citizen Corps.

President Bush addressed this “army of compassion” thanking them for their heartfelt gift of service. It is always encouraging to hear the President’s support for service programs throughout the US and internationally. However, the remarks of President Bush demonstrate shift in rhetoric regarding the role of service corps in the US and worldwide. While earlier presidents regarded service as a significant contribution to solving community problems and a responsibility held by all sectors of society, the current rhetoric addresses service instead as a compassionate act of good will.

It is important to note that the foundations for service in the US were not established as “armies of compassion,” but to fulfill the responsibility of all people to address the challenges facing communities in the US and worldwide. When President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, creating AmeriCorps among other things, he discussed the desire he witnessed on the part of young people to provide for their communities. He talked about getting things done and the responsibility of Americans to engage in service to meet the challenges of communities throughout the US, saying:

I hope, believe, and dream that national service will remain throughout the life of America not as a series of promises but a series of challenges across all the generations and all walks of life to help us to rebuild our troubled but wonderful land.

President George H.W. Bush promoted the thousands points of light (eventually the Points of Light Institute) of volunteering in the US. In his inaugural address in 1989, he discussed US volunteering with a sense of duty and responsibility.

I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.

In 1961, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 creating the Peace Corps. Through this order he authorized sending Americans overseas to help other countries meet their urgent needs for skilled manpower. At the signing of this order, President Kennedy also discussed the critical needs Peace Corps volunteers will meet through their service and the responsibilities of all Americans to contribute to global development.

We will only send abroad Americans who are wanted by the host country--who have a real job to do--and who are qualified to do that job. Programs will be developed with care, and after full negotiation, in order to make sure that the Peace Corps is wanted and will contribute to the welfare of other people. Our Peace Corps is not designed as an instrument of diplomacy or propaganda or ideological conflict. It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.

Finally, in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed into existence the Community Conservation Corps to bring together a need for jobs and a need for public works. President Clinton described the contribution the CCC made to communities in his 1993 remarks:

Sixty years ago in the depths of depression, Franklin Roosevelt created the CCC and gave Americans the chance not only to do meaningful work so that they could feed themselves and their families but so that they could build America for the future. And down to this day there is not a State in this country that is untouched by the continuing impact of the good work done by the people who labored in the CCC.

The words of former President’s as they created the service corps in history, exemplify their vision of service members as agents for change in addressing challenges faced by communities across the country and throughout the world. Their role is more than just acting with compassion, but also serving the community, investing in service and meeting critical needs.

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