Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Watershed Year for National Service

The closing of each year provides an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months while looking forward to what the next 12 months might hold. For the national service movement in the United States, 2009 was a watershed year providing an unprecedented amount of support and momentum for growing the field. Here is a look back at 2009 and some of the defining moments, in no particular order, for the US national service field in 2009.

President and Mrs. Obama’s Call to Service

The end of 2008 and most of 2009 saw tremendous support for national service by President and Mrs. Obama. With a history of service themselves, both participated in service activities throughout the year, spoke at high visibility events and supported legislation to expand national service opportunities.

On the day before Inauguration, President Obama joined volunteers in painting a homeless shelter for teens in Washington, DC, as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Encouraged by President Obama’s call to service, more than 13,000 service projects were implemented throughout the US, representing a historic amount of participation on the MLK Day of Service.

President Obama wrote about this call to service on MLK Day in an essay for the Washington Times. Enthusiasm is now growing for the 2010 MLK Day of Service on January 18. For information about available opportunities to participate, visit

In February, during President Obama’s first address to Congress he called on Representatives and Senators from both parties to swiftly pass the Kennedy Serve America Act which led to its passage and signing by the end of April (more below). His support for the legislation helped speed up Congress’s consideration of and passing of the Act.

Finally, throughout the year President and Mrs. Obama spoke widely about their support for national service and volunteering. Mrs. Obama addressed a crowd of over 4,000 at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in June. President Obama joined former President George H.W. Bush at the Presidents Forum on Service in October. Both also participated in service events and continuously called on all Americans to take part in building their communities.

Historic Passage of the Kennedy Serve America Act

Following President Obama’s call for swift action on the Kennedy Serve America Act, co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R – Utah) and Senator Edward Kennedy (D – Mass.)*, Congress passed the Kennedy Serve America Act in April. President Obama signed the legislation on April 21, 2009, saying:

We need your service, right now, at this moment in history. I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover. But I’m asking you to stand up and play your part. I’m asking you to help change history’s course. Put your shoulder up against the wheel. And if you do, I promise you – your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.

The legislation calls for a historic expansion of national service through growing AmeriCorps to 250,000 participants each year by 2017 and focusing national service efforts on five priority areas – education, health, veterans, opportunity and clean energy. This includes a Clean Energy Service Corps as advocated for by ICP and several other community-based organizations through the Clean Energy Corps Working Group.

The Serve America Act infuses new capital into promising ideas through the Social Innovation Fund and supports Summer of Service programs as developed and nurtured by ICP. Summer of Service (SOS) programs are innovative service-learning opportunities for engaging middle school youth in intensive, structured, and supervised community-based service-learning projects that are designed to produce identifiable improvements that meet community, human, educational, environmental and other needs.

Shortly before the end of the year, Congress successfully appropriated a record $1.149 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Service to expand and implement the Serve America Act in FY2010. This includes $2 million for Summer of Service.

Historic Participation in Service Days and Activities

In the US and internationally, several days of service were celebrated engaging unprecedented amounts of people in community service projects.

An international annual campaign mobilizing youth for community service, Global Youth Service Day, saw tremendous participation from young people in over 100 countries. In April over 750,000 young people joined in addressing some of the world’s most critical issues.

In June, Mrs. Obama launched the United We Serve campaign calling on Americans to participate in service activities over the summer months. According to,

With the knowledge that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when given the proper tools, President Obama is asking us to come together to help lay a new foundation for growth. (United We Serve) aims to both expand the impact of existing organizations by engaging new volunteers in their work and encourage volunteers to develop their own "do-it-yourself" projects.

United We Serve culminated in the September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance. President Obama designated September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance and called on all Americans to create a lasting and forward-looking legacy that forever remembers and honors the victims of 9/11 by voluntarily participating in service activities on the anniversary of 9/11 each year.

All of these efforts experienced unprecedented levels of participation, helped raise visibility for the positive impact of service efforts on community needs, and exposed Americans of all walks of life to ways they can connect with and improve their communities.

ICP’s Memorable Activities

ICP had a very exciting year with ongoing support for Summer of Service, the tremendous growth of the Talloires Network and its first awarding of the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship, the successful design and facilitation of a stakeholders’ consultation in India and much much more. Visit our website and watch for our Activities Report early next year for more information about all of these initiatives.

During 2009 ICP interns and staff got involved in our local community through volunteering at the DC Central Kitchen in January and the Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast DC in July. At DC Central Kitchen we helped cook a yummy lunch for area homeless. At the Marvin Gaye Park we enjoyed a day outside and helped keep trees fresh with “Ooze Tubes”, ensuring a constant source of water for the trees, and placing mulch around older trees. We also helped clean up a kitchen that will become a cafĂ© to serve food made from produce grown locally at the park’s farmers market.

ICP also enjoyed the support of various interns and fellows throughout 2009 that greatly contributed to our success throughout the year. We are grateful to all of our interns and fellows that gave their time and expertise to keeping our projects going.

These represent a snapshot of exciting moments for national service in the US and ICP during 2009. As you look back on 2009, please tell us about your most memorable service activities in the comments below.

We look forward to an even more exciting 2010 as we expand opportunities for engaging young people in service throughout the US and worldwide. We wish you great success in 2010 and even greater opportunities to get involved in building your communities.

* The service community also mourned the loss of Senator Kennedy to brain cancer in August. He was a long-time supporter and leader for national service and the Serve America Act was named in his honor.

Photo credits:

DC Cares recruited hundreds of volunteers to repair and paint Hine Junior High School in Washington for a King Day of Service project. An estimated 10,000 volunteers served through more than 80 projects in and around Washington D.C. They joined hundreds of thousands of Americans who participated in the 2007 King Day of Service, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Photo by M. T. Harmon, Office of Public Affairs, Corporation for National and Community Service,

Mayor Adrian Fenty joins volunteers in painting a mural during a service project at the Community for Creative Nonviolence in Washington, D.C. About 20,000 people in the District of Columbia participated in nearly 150 service projects in honor of the slain civil rights leader on January 21, 2008. Photo by M. T. Harmon, Office of Public Affairs, Corporation for National and Community Service,

ICP Staff with pumpkins we carved for Halloween 2009. Photo by Susan Stroud.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Engaging Young People in Climate Change Negotiations

World leaders are gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week to negotiate commitments for tackling the global climate crisis. Many of these leaders have accepted that the impacts of climate change will be felt most by the planet’s growing ranks of young people.

These young people also represent a tremendous opportunity to positively impact climate change and they have come together in various platforms to demand a voice, action and a sustainable future.

Some of these actions kicked off with the Children’s Climate Forum hosted by UNICEF in Denmark. During the week of November 30, about 160 young people from 44 countries hammered out a declaration emphasizing the urgency for fighting climate change and for government action in that fight.

Participants presented the declaration to the President of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), Connie Hedegaard, who is expected to take it to world leaders at COP15. Addressing the young people, Ms. Hedegaard emphasized her support for the need for action:

“You must tell the politicians that they cannot leave Copenhagen empty-handed two weeks from now. Because you, the citizens – the new generation – demand us to take action now.”

For those young people unable to join the Children’s Climate Forum in person, young journalists produced daily reports on its activities. Through social media and online shows, young people expressed their views on climate change and served as the youth-created record of the Children’s Climate Forum.

At COP15 during December 7-18, 2009, approximately 2,000 young people are expected to join negotiators in Copenhagen. There are several events throughout the meetings designed to give young people a voice.

For example, three Youth Briefings will be organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat at which invited officials will give short presentations followed by questions from young people. A UN Youth Booth is also hosted by the Secretariat to provide a platform for youth organizations to present their initiatives. To take advantage of these activities and other participation opportunities, many young people have come together under a youth conference, YOUNGO, which the Secretariat recognized as a civil society grouping representing young people at the negotiations.

Many other young people have been engaged as ambassadors for media outlets, organizations and nations to join the negotiations and report on their activities. The Energy Action Coalition and Power Shift built Rapid Response Teams of young people in the US and in Copenhagen to share what the negotiations mean to them and make sure their voices are heard.

Canadian-based civil society organization, 2degreesC, is hosting a web-based global youth outreach initiative, mass dialogues, to connect young people attending the negotiations with others around the world. The mass dialogues include a series of web-based meetings to extend learning and empowerment through participation in the negotiations.

There are many outlets for youth participation in the COP 15 negotiations. It is inspiring to see young people throughout the world stepping up and acting on issues important to them. It is time for the world leaders to listen to them and take immediate action.

Photo courtesy of Oxfam International creative commons flickr photostream.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Celebrities, Sports Leagues and Corporations Call on Americans to Participate

Since the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act was passed earlier this spring, there have been many actions taken by individuals, organizations and companies to further promote volunteerism and community service. In the past, there have been numerous celebrities promoting all kinds of causes and charities, but lately a younger generation is demonstrating an unprecedented involvement in promoting volunteerism.

Ann Hathaway was recently selected as a spokesperson for ServiceNation, a coalition of organizations aimed to inspire volunteerism, while Usher made a $1 million donation to launch “Powered by Service,” an international movement to seed youth-led service projects. Even the teenage idol, Miley Cyrus, is working with Youth Service America to promote the new campaign, “Get UR Good On” to encourage young people to volunteer and participate in civic engagement.

Many companies also kicked off campaigns to promote volunteerism in various ways. Disney announced its new “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” promotion will start on January 1, 2010, and continue through mid-December, aiming to inspire one million people to volunteer. In this campaign, people interested in volunteering can search for volunteer opportunities through the HandsOn Network and sign up for a day of service (pre-registration and sign-up is a must). After searching for volunteer opportunities, pre-registering and signing up at, participants will be rewarded for their service with a free one-day ticket to one of the participating Disney theme parks.

In addition, Sage Hospitality Resources, a hotel management and development company that works on several major hotel chains including Hilton, Marriott and Starwood, also created a campaign called “Give A Day, Get a Night,” at which people give eight hours of community service and get a 50% discount, or even a complimentary one night stay at one of the participating hotels.

Sports leagues such as the MLB and NBA are also doing their part to promote community service. The 2009 World Series added seven community service focused themes, one for each game of the series. During Game 2, on October 30, 2009, the Roberto Clemente Award was awarded to Derek Jeter for his Turn 2 Foundation and its efforts helping kids. The Award is given in honor of Roberto Clemente, a former Pittsburgh Pirates player who fully devoted himself to community service and was killed in a plan crash en route to a humanitarian mission in Nicaragua.

The NBA held a NBA Cares Week of Service during which teams and players worked with local communities on a series of projects including park clean-up, care package giveaways and food service.

TV stations and shows also played their parts. ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC gathered their stars for public service announcements introducing iParticipate, a new volunteer initiative led by The Entertainment Industry Foundation. During the following week, which was called the “Volunteer Week”, several TV shows had characters volunteering and doing community service in the shows, such as CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Ghost Whisperer and The Mentalist.

The efforts of these many organizations and companies, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and many celebrity personalities, to promote service are a promising effort toward making service a part of everyday life for many Americans. They are further supported by the efforts of the Obama Administration’s call to service and the Kennedy Serve America Act, hopefully providing many more opportunities for Americans across the country to get involved in building their communities

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Queen Rania and US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis stress the importance of investing in education

On September 24, during a Plenary Session titled “Creating Good Jobs and Strong Communities,” Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) participants emphasized the importance of education.

Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan said education is a priority during elections, but as a less seemingly dramatic issue it slips down the list of priorities when politicians are in office. Queen Rania said, “Education is an issue of life and death. If you educate a child he is 50% less likely to get HIV/AIDS.”

To create a sense of what is needed internationally Queen Rania said, “We need $11 million to get all children in developing countries into education. That’s about what Americans spend on their pets every month.” Queen Rania believes involving the private sector in efforts for improving education is one way to advance this cause. She said we must “understand that education is not just the government’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Speaking about the need to focus on education within the U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said, “The investment is sorely needed in young people. There are a lot of young adults who don’t have the financial ability to enter a four year college.”

Secretary Solis said investment in community colleges is “one step in the right direction,” but work is needed to “allow for four-year universities to make their tuition more affordable.” Speaking to funders and representatives from non-profits Secretary Solis said, “I would encourage people to reach out to this new administration, especially from the NGO side.”

Innovative approaches are needed throughout the education field. In the U.S. teacher retention and shortages are a major challenge in public schools that can impede young people’s ability to access quality education at a young age and create barriers to future academic success. Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) is partnering with the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) in the creation of alternative pathways to teaching for AmeriCorps members.

This project is aimed at addressing the challenges of teacher shortages and retention in the most challenging schools by tapping an important pool of diverse, talented and committed future teachers—AmeriCorps members whose service focuses on education, children and young people in the most disadvantaged communities throughout the United States.

Given their commitment and experience serving in challenging educational settings, ICP and NCTAF believe that AmeriCorps members are a powerful resource for schools with high teacher shortages and low retention rates, if provided with suitable pathways to obtaining the necessary teacher certification. You can learn more about Pathways to Teaching here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Usher and Philippe Cousteau create new service-learning initiatives

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts from ICP’s Summer of Service Fellow, Josh Truitt, from the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

On September 24 Usher and Philippe Cousteau announced two new service-learning initiatives as part of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting.

Usher’s New Look (UNL), an organization that uses service-learning to help young people become corporate and community leaders, is launching Powered By Service. This new initiative will involve over 5 million youth in service in the US and internationally by giving them access to online toolkits and chances to apply for financial resources to support service-learning projects. Through this initiative young people will be given the tools to identify and respond to community needs including malaria, HIV/AIDS, gang violence prevention and water issues. UNL is collaborating with a number of partners including HandsOn Network, City Year, Public Allies and Service Nation.

At CGI Usher announced a personal commitment of $1 million to Powered By Service. Usher said he wants to make service, “something that’s not handed down as a sentence for youth. It’s not until you really give them the opportunity to give you their take. The reality is becoming more vivid day by day that service is changing the world to be a better place.”

Usher discussed his personal experience with service as a young person: “I can remember as a child being a part of Boys and Girls Club of America and we did service projects… Me and a group of my friends in Chattanooga, TN, came together and became an anti-drug youth group.” Because of his personal experience with service Usher has chosen to use his position as a media figure to create opportunities for youth-led service projects: “We really can make a difference when we put that power in the youth’s hands. Service can make a difference in any issue.” Usher also announced there will be a service project connected to his upcoming tour, though the details are not yet available.

UNL focuses on service-learning because of a belief in the power of youth-led service projects. Malea Murray, a former New Look camper and current Mogul in Training (MIT), joined Usher at the press conference and discussed the leadership role MIT youth have taken in the creation of Powered By Service: “We actually created the grant for Powered By Service and the grant application for Nothing But Nets grants. Now they’re available for youths… to create service projects… that are accessible, diverse and relevant to their issues.” Nothing But Nets is a campaign to end malaria.

Philippe Cousteau, great-grandson of Jacques Cousteau and Co-Founder and CEO of EarthEcho International, also announced the organization’s Water Planet Challenge program. EarthEcho International empowers young people to act to restore and protect the water planet. Water Planet Challenge will make service-learning lesson plans developed by HandsOn Network available to every middle and high school student in the US. EarthEcho International is partnering with UNL to make environmentally themed service-learning curriculum available to young people.

Cousteau said this new program is part of a broad effort to revolutionize international youth service by using the internet to help youth all over the world engage in service-learning. Cousteau spoke in support of service-learning as a strategy for youth education and empowerment. He said, “There’s this assumption that awareness leads to action. In reality action leads to awareness.” By acting on crucial environmental issues through service-learning projects young people become invested in learning more about the issue and staying involved in future action. Cousteau also emphasized the leadership development component of service-learning: “There’s no end to what young people can achieve. We think that by doing good service, giving them the tools and raising the profile of [service] we are creating leaders.”

To learn more about Powered By Service and Usher’s New Look visit and To learn more about EarthEcho International visit

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

President Obama emphasizes the importance of service at the Clinton Global Initiative

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts from ICP’s Summer of Service Fellow, Josh Truitt, from the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

I have the honor of spending most of this week at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York City. CGI brings together world leaders from government, nonprofits and the private sector to discuss solutions to some of our world’s most pressing challenges. Sixty current and former heads of state, 500 business leaders and 400 leaders of NGOs are in attendance.

President Obama addressed the CGI meeting on Tuesday, September 22 as part of the Opening Plenary. In his introduction President Clinton emphasized President Obama’s experience as a community organizer, telling the room full of philanthropists from around the globe that “It’s a good thing to have a President with an NGO background.”

President Obama’s speech emphasized the importance of service. He told the meeting, “You don’t have to hold public office to be a public servant. Anyone can do it.”

President Obama linked community and national service with the work of philanthropists. He discussed expanding the number of AmeriCorps national service members from 75,000 to 250,000 per year and the creation of the Social Innovation Fund which will leverage federal funding to identify and grow proven and new ideas that address community issues. The President also identified links between efforts to expand national service in the US and the Clinton Global Initiative’s work, which promotes innovation internationally and focuses on supporting service in communities with the most need.

The President continued, “Real progress doesn’t just come from the top down, from government. It comes from the bottom up, from people.” Similarly, at Innovations in Civic Participation, we believe in the power of young people to create innovative solutions to social challenges through engagement in their communities, and that it is the responsibility of governments, private and nonprofit sector organizations to support and promote the most successful approaches. In particular, ICP promotes a positive view of young people that recognizes their potential to create beneficial and lasting social change in their communities through active participation in service opportunities.

Please check back for updates about other inspiring and influential speakers at the meeting as we look forward to discussing the importance of youth civic engagement in solving some of the world’s most critical needs.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Senator Harkin Supports Serve America Act at Hill Day Kick Off

On September 15 national service advocates and practitioners from 40 states participated in Voices for National Service’s Hill Day. They rallied in Washington, DC, to ask their Senators and Representatives to fully fund the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. I attended the kick off event for Hill Day on behalf of Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP).

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and other service advocates addressed the crowd. The Senator emphasized the need for fully supporting the Serve America Act. The appropriation level he is requesting for the Serve America Act is higher than President Obama’s request and much higher than the House request. He urged participants in the Hill Day to ask their Representatives to support the Senate appropriation levels. To learn more and take action to support national service funding go here.

Senator Harkin spoke positively about working toward expanding AmeriCorps to 250,000 members by 2017 and he hopes that goal can be met sooner. He provided anectdotes about the important work of volunteers during disaster relief and focused specifically on the work of seniors. The Senator discussed increasing education awards and making it possible for SeniorCorps education awards to be transferred to any other person (not only family members) or perhaps individuals from low-income backgrounds.

The Senator was recently named chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee while also chairing the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. At the Tuesday event, Senator Harkin emphasized the importance of the HELP Committee and joked that appropriators and authorizers are always told to talk with each other and now he needs to talk with himself.

Following the Senator’s remarks Voices organizers sent participants off to a day of meetings advocating for national service.

Voices for National Service is a coalition of national service programs and organizations, state commissions and individuals who come together to advocate for national service. ICP is a Voices member. Voices was founded in 2003 in response to major cuts in federal funds for AmeriCorps. Voices members have participated in annual Hill Days since 2005. Thanks to the coalition’s work government support for national service in the US is now stronger then ever.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11: National Day of Service and Remembrance

Today the United States, and its friends around the world stop to reflect on the tragedy of eight years ago, when 2,819 people lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

It is no less a day of reflection at ICP. ICP formally opened its door eight years ago, only a few months before 9/11. As we have grown over the past eight years, we have done so in a country and a world that, for better or worse, has been profoundly shaped by the events of that single autumn day. In years to come, future generations will look back and identify September 11, 2001, as a generational turning point – this day of tragedy that occurred just as the first forerunners of the Millennial generation graduated from high school and began college, and as the first cohort of the generation to follow was born.

And what has 9/11 come to mean for the young adults and teenagers of the Millennial generation, and for the children of the next? We have witnessed over the past eight years a growing call for civic engagement, for social responsibility. We have seen countless reports and studies over the past eight years that all say the same thing – young people value community. They value service. They value connection and the sharing of their stories with others. They value their role as not passive, powerless recipients of charity and “for your own good” proclamations and decrees, but as strong, integral actors in identifying and addressing community needs, challenges, and solutions. Young people are crucial resources in tackling economic downturn, global climate change, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, educational disparity, crime and many other critical community needs.

There is always much talk by older generations concerning how best to prepare the younger generations to tackle the severe, planet-wide, even life-threatening problems that will come to a head in the not-so-distant future. It is time for the older generations to recognize that young people are ready now. They have grown up and matured in a world shaped by 9/11. They have seen what marginalization, poverty, isolation, hostility and hatred have done. They are ready now to counter those effects by reaching out to others, to their community, to engage in service to address the root causes of those issues. They are ready now to heal the damage.

And so at ICP, we are encouraged that the tendency of the past eight years has been toward embracing 9/11 as not just a day for remembrance of the victims of hatred and tragedy, but a day of service to the greater good – a day to reach out to our community, to remind ourselves of the ties that bind us, to treat each other with compassion and understanding, and to join together to face down the issues and challenges that can so easily divide us.


More news about support for service in connection to the National Day of Service and Remembrance:

Visit the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance website

Read about the designation of September 11 as the National Day of Service and Remembrance in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

Read President Obama’s proclamation of the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance

Learn about the service projects that thousands of Americans will be engaged in today, and find an opportunity to serve here.

Mayors of some of the largest cities in the US have announced the creation of a Cities in Service” initiative.

Tonight in New York City, My Good Deed and ServiceNation will host a National Day of Service and Remembrance Commemoration, which is slated to have appearances and speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Governor David Paterson, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and performances by entertainers including platinum-selling singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw, Anjulie, the Harlem Boys and Girls Choir, Grammy Award winners The Roots, and Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik.

Find out more about ICP’s work in engaging young people worldwide in service at

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Civically Engaged Generation

A couple of recent studies have painted an impressive picture of American young people as a generation that is engaged in service to a remarkable degree:

* The Corporation for National and Community Service found in their recent "Volunteering in America" research that young adults (ages 16-24) showed the most significant increase in volunteer numbers, with young adults making up almost half of the increase in the number volunteers from 2007 to 2008. According to this research, in 2008 21.9% of young adults in the United States were involved in volunteer activities.

* The Volunteer Family recently commissioned a report that found that 73% of U.S. teenagers (ages 12-17) have engaged in volunteer activities.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Increase in Israel-Arab Youth Participation in National Service

Last week Lior Shohat, Public Affairs Coordinator in the Administration for National Civic Service, announced that the number of Israeli-Arabs that have applied for positions in the Israeli national service program has quadrupled in the four years since the program was started. According to Shohat, the demand among Israeli-Arab youth for service positions far outstrips the 1000+ vacancies currently available to them.

This news, in conjunction with a 2007 poll by Dr. Sammy Smooha and Dr. Nahed Ali of Haifa University showing that 75% of the Israeli-Arab population supports civil service, displays a marked contrast between the willingness and desire of young Israeli-Arabs to serve on a national level and the opposition of some Arab leaders to Arab participation in the program. Critics say that Arab young people involved in the civil service program will be ostracized by their communities and that the program’s integration of Arab youth is an attempt to erode a sense of Arab community unity.

However, comments in articles by Ynetnews highlight some opinions from Arab young people who are convinced of the importance of volunteering and contributing civil service to their country. This view very much ties in with the research that ICP has done over the years demonstrating that service is a proven strategy for connecting marginalized youth to the greater community . ICP’s research also shows that young people on the whole are eager for opportunities that will allow them to take on a role as a valuable resource in proactively addressing challenges in their communities, and that service provides valuable educational, employment, and active citizenship skills, as well as providing a path out of poverty and social marginalization. ICP’s most recent Service as a Strategy paper further highlights the importance of government and nongovernment investment in youth service opportunities as a way to address critical national needs.

It comes as no surprise to ICP that the National Civic Service program of Israel has proven to be an attractive option for Israeli-Arab youth seeking an alternative to 60+ years of political and social isolation and marginalization.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Shirley Sagawa on Senator Kennedy's Legacy

The Chronicle of Philanthropy featured this editoral by Shirley Sagawa last Thursday in remembrance of Senator Edward "Ted" M. Kennedy:

*cross-posted from the CoP*

Legacies: Sen. Kennedy and Public Service

By Shirley Sagawa

As tributes pour in about the role of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, he is being heralded for promoting national-service legislation, but little attention is focusing on the pivotal role he played in persuading liberals to back the ideas that eventually led to the creation of the AmeriCorps program. His vigorous efforts to promote the importance of public service — and to offer incentives to encourage people of all income levels to serve — will be one of his most important legacies.

In the late 1980s, the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats, unveiled a legislative proposal to require students to give a year of civilian or military service in order to get financial aid. Liberals didn’t like the idea of forcing needy students to serve. The opposition of House Democrats was so strong, it looked like any attempt to authorize national service legislation linking service to benefits was going to die.

But Senator Kennedy saw the wisdom of strengthening Americans’ engagement in public service. For him, it was a value deeply ingrained in his family and in the work he did every day to fight for those in need. He sought to put together legislation that would serve this end — including a test of the controversial idea of tying student aid to full-time service. He worked tirelessly to convince his House colleagues to go along, while at the same time, courting Senate Republicans and President George H.W. Bush.

The legislation that resulted from his vision laid the groundwork for AmeriCorps — which offers an education stipend in exchange for service — as well as the Learn and Serve program to integrate community service into the lives of children in elementary and secondary school.

In 1993 he successfully led the fight to persuade Congress to pass President Clinton’s AmeriCorps plan. And last year, seeing the first opportunity in more than a decade to extend and expand national service, he worked quietly behind the scenes with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to prepare new legislation that would attract bipartisan support and might be signed within the first 100 days of a new administration.

This forethought resulted in a bill signed by President Obama on April 21 — the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, so named by the gracious act of his longtime friend and sometime opponent, Senator Hatch.

I first met Senator Kennedy near three decades ago, as an intern in his office at the beginning of the Reagan administration. Awed by his energy and commitment, I was inspired to pursue a career in public policy.

I had the chance to work for him again after law school, as an aide on the Senate Labor Committee, working on national service and youth policy. Because of Senator Kennedy’s leadership on behalf of national service, millions of other Americans who never had the opportunity to meet him have also been introduced to the life-changing power of serving others. They have and will go on to make a difference and to inspire others to serve.

Through them, as Senator Kennedy put it nearly three decades ago, “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Shirley Sagawa is a visiting fellow at the Center for American Progress, in Washington.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932 - 2009

Innovations in Civic Participation is saddened by the loss of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a longtime leader and supporter of national service. Ted Kennedy died on August 25, 2009 at his home in Hyannis Port, MA. He was 77. Senator Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008 and survived much longer than his doctors expected. At the time of his death the man dubbed the “Lion of the Senate” was the second most senior member of the Senate. He was considered the patriarch of the Kennedys, a family with a legacy of public service.

Ted Kennedy was a longtime proponent of national youth service. In 2001 he helped increase funding for Boys and Girls Club of America and in 2002 he worked to increase funding for 4-H Program youth development work. In 2003 he cosponsored a resolution creating National Youth Service Day in order to encourage youth service and recognize the contributions young people make to their communities.

Senator Kennedy was a major architect of recent legislation that was the largest expansion of national service programs since the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993. The legislation was named the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in honor of his years of public service and hard work expanding opportunities for young people. The Act reauthorizes and strengthens the programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service and provides funding for new innovative programs. It puts AmeriCorps on the path to grow from its current level of 75,000 to 250,000 members per year. It also creates new service opportunities including the Clean Energy Corps and Summer of Service.

The Kennedy family said in a statement, “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.”

Innovations in Civic Participation is grateful for Senator Kennedy’s leadership in the national service movement and honors his lifetime of public service.

National Service Does Not Lead to Civic Apathy and Disengagement

In his recent article for The Heritage Foundation, Brian Brown argues that the rise of progressive values calling citizens to national service to combat social needs and challenges has instead made the American populace apathetic and increasingly disengaged from civic society.

Brown argues that addressing social ills on a national level means that the solution must therefore also be scaled up to national levels. In doing so the common person loses a sense of identity with the cause and accomplishment in effecting a solution, since any results must necessarily be less immediate. Brown concludes that the only effective civic service must be at the local community level, and that national service programs have been failures, despite progressive governments’ attempts to rally the populace around a cause:

“…20th century Presidents frequently charged into office with calls to new wars, hoping to arouse an increasingly disconnected populace into real public-spirited participation. From the Community Conservation Corps to VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) to the Serve America Act, American leaders proved to each generation on a national stage that Americans, while privately generous, did not feel a common call to the kind of national service that…would define the newly remodeled nation. The emergence of each new program underlined the fact that the previous one had not done the trick, and each one had to be replaced or reinvented within a generation.”

At ICP, we disagree. The evidence is plain that, far from each new initiative failing, Americans have been enthusiastic about taking advantage of opportunities for national service and are clamoring for more.

In 2007, there were 158,735 applications for 75,000 AmeriCorps spots. In 2008, there were 171,085 applications. The 2009 fiscal year is still in progress, but on July 20 Tim Zimmerman, Director of Creative Content for Be The Change, announced on Change Wire (the blog of ServiceNation) that according to an unpublished Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), between November 2008 and June 2009, AmeriCorps had received 146,699 applications with a third of the year left. Clearly, Americans view national service as a valuable pathway to civic engagement, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, with its intention to vastly expand the number of opportunities available, will strengthen that pathway.

Nor have national service programs resulted in Americans feeling apathetic and lacking in a sense of accomplishment in addressing broad, society-wide social needs. AmeriCorps members work in hundreds of organizations throughout the country, serving the needs of a community to which they become closely attached, and where results are real and tangible.

Recent research by the Corporation for National and Community Service, moreover, finds that members of AmeriCorps programs have significantly greater belief in the thought that they can make a difference in their community, and are more engaged in volunteering and other civic service activities.[i]

While Brown is quite right that effective service takes place at the community level, he fails to acknowledge the ability of national government to provide the means for inspiring and connecting volunteers to service opportunities in a community, such as through, and to providing support for making those opportunities successful, rewarding, and even profitable (it is worth noting that the economic contribution of volunteer service in 2007 added up to approximately $158 billion[ii]. Specifically, volunteers leveraged through CNCS programs demonstrated an economic contribution of approximately $4.62[iii] billion on a budget of $884.5 million[iv] – a return of $4.22 return on every dollar invested in the programs.)

Furthermore, it is puzzling why Brown would consider it a failing that programs need to periodically be reinvented. Society changes over time and Americans are constantly innovating new and more effective approaches to deep-seated social challenges.

A service program that remained static would become rapidly obsolete and irrelevant, but instead national service programs have evolved over the years to keep up with societal needs. The Civilian Conservation Corps (presumably what Brown means when he speaks of the Community Conservation Corps) lives on through modern programs such as the Corps Network and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps. Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), having merged with AmeriCorps to become AmeriCorps VISTA in 1993, continues to be a powerful force against poverty, as it has been for the past 40 years. Innovation is hardly synonymous with failure.

[ii] Based on information as to number of volunteer hours contributed in 2007 (8.1 billion) (, multiplied by the calculated value of volunteer work per hour in 2007 ($19.51) (

[iii] Based on information as to number of volunteer hours through CNCS in 2007 (3.9 million) (, multiplied by the calculated value of volunteer work per hour in 2007 ($19.51) (

Friday, August 7, 2009

Civically Engaging Young People in the Middle East and North Africa

In June 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Cairo emphasizing the potential of young people to effect change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and shining a light on increased youth engagement there. More...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Pathways from Service to Careers

With unemployment rates rising and the job market diminishing recent college graduates have been looking toward service programs for new opportunities. Read the previous entry highlighting unemployed youth here. College graduates are choosing to participate in service related alternatives such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps ,Teach for America and conservations corps. Not only will these graduates be addressing community needs but also acquiring skills required for future careers in public service.

The Utah Conservation Corps, for example, consists mostly of college graduates or students. With the Corps, they commit to 450-1,900 hours of service. They learn essential skills in fields of conservatio n, community restoration and urban infrastructure needed for promising green-collar jobs. Similar programs benefit youth tremendously. According to a study by Brandeis University “YOUTH Corps: Promising Strategies for Young People and Their Communities” youth involved in the corps have higher rates of employment and earnings.

Two-thirds of Teach for America participants stay in teaching past their initial two year commitment, and another third pass the four year mark. These percentages show that some of these participants are there to be long-term career teachers.

By far, AmeriCorps members and alumni have shown the most significant impact in long term service careers. Still Serving: Measuring the Eight-Year Impact of AmeriCorps on Alumni, the study shows that more than 60% of AmeriCorps members choose to work in nonprofit organizations or public agencies. 80% of members claim the AmeriCorps had exposed them to new career options. Alums’ career choices show that AmeriCorps does lead people to lifelong careers in public service and a commitment to serving communities at need.

This window of opportunity for these graduates provides a means to build skills such as team-building, leadership and cooperation. They are helping out to improve communities, education and the environment. These programs address imminent problems of poverty, homelessness and even the energy crisis. Just as importantly, these graduates are learning skills that will benefit and enhance their future careers.

Michelle Obama commented at a recent commencement speech at University of California Merced “Now, let me tell you, careers focused on lifting up our communities –whether it’s helping transform troubled schools or creating after-school programs or training workers for green jobs – these careers are not always obvious but today they are necessary.”

Commitment to AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Teach for America, conservations corps and other national youth service opportunities can be anything from four months to two years. Although unemployment may be a factor in choosing such paths of service, this will ignite a new generation of civically aware and socially minded individuals. With the priceless knowledge and training these graduates will receive, we can only look forward to a brighter future ahead.


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