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.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unemployed Youth Look to Service Opportunities

With the national employment rate at 9.7% and expected to top 10% this year , media outlets all over the country are reporting on the crisis, however, this coverage has largely ignored one particularly rapidly rising group of unemployed workers: youth. National service programs can be an effective means of putting an unemployed youth population to work, simultaneously avoiding the societal pitfalls of unemployment --including increased risky behavior among youth and long term effects of a disenfranchised and unskilled generation -- while allowing young people to gain valuable life and work skills that will serve them, and our economy, well into the future.

According to the Center for American Progress, minority workers, teens and less-educated workers have unemployment rates far higher than the national average. The latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in July 2008, 3.4 million youth in the United States were unemployed representing a youth unemployment rate of 14%. This represents the highest rate for July since 1992.

Youth unemployment, even more than general unemployment, poses a unique problem to American society and requires a unique solution. As Rowenna Davis states in the British paper, The Guardian, “youth unemployment hurts us all.” Davis finds that young people who experience periods of unemployment are three times as likely to be involved in crime and more likely to undergo teenage pregnancy. This is in line with ICP’s 2006 findings that unemployment increases the likelihood of risky behaviors, such as drug use, gang-related activity and sexual promiscuity, in youth.

Additionally, youth unemployment can have negative consequences on the long-term capacity of our economy. ICP found that unemployed youth are more likely than their employed counterparts to face unemployment in their adult lives.

In our 2006 Service As a Strategy paper: Combating Youth Unemployment, ICP outlines how national service can help alleviate youth unemployment. In light of the current global recession and its significant effect on the American job market, the lessons of this paper are again clear: youth service can provide unemployed youth with structured opportunities to apply their talents and abilities while developing skills and habits that transfer to economic viability.

While the implications of rising youth unemployment have not yet caught the attention of American media, the problem has been increasingly documented around the world. Recently, articles have appeared concerning rising youth unemployment in Timor-Leste , Lithuania , South Africa , Britain, and various countries in West Africa and across Asia .

Additionally, there has been a spike in coverage of and concern about youth unemployment among British media. The Economist notes that the rate of unemployment among young people aged 18-24 in Britain has jumped from 11.9% to 17.3% over the past year. The class of 2009 is the most debt-ridden group of college graduates in Britain’s history, and is the least likely to find a job.

While economists and policy analysts do not believe the US recession will reach the depths of Britain’s, Britain’s problems serve as a preview to what could happen in the United States should our economic recession deepen. It is imperative that the Untied States work to address critical national problems before they get worse. Youth service should be closely examined at both the federal and state levels as a strategy for addressing the growing problem youth unemployment in the United States.

This past year has seen tremendous growth in interest in national service alternatives. AmeriCorps applications have tripled to nearly 150,000; applications for the U.S. Peace Corps have risen to 25,000, up 40% from the previous year; Teach for America applications skyrocketed to 35,000; and applications for state Conservations Corps have doubled.

As addressed in ICP’s 2006 publication, service programs not only supply the state with energetic young people to help address critical immediate national issues such as the environment, public health and education, but also provide a mechanism for young people to build skills -- such as leadership, responsibility, the ability to take supervision and make decisions, self-management, team-building and cooperation.

Instead of feeling disempowered and alienated, young people engaged in service projects achieve a sense of purpose and accomplishment that counteracts pressures to get involved in unhealthy behaviors and sets them on the right track to participate in a productive and industrious workforce.

In ICP's next blog entry, ICP intern Alice Wu examines how service can be a pathway to specific careers for America's youth.

For more information about how youth service is an effective strategy for combating unemployment, please see ICP’s 2006 Service as a Strategy paper.

Friday, July 24, 2009

ICP's Day of Service: Marvin Gaye Park

Yesterday, ICP’s staff took the day off to lend a hand in our local DC community and experience the benefits of service first hand. Instead of coming into the office we all headed over to Marvin Gaye Park in Northeastern DC.

Until recently, Marvin Gaye Park was unfinished and largely forgotten. In 1972, the park was transferred from the National Park Service to the District of Columbia. In 1973, the Northeast Boundary Association developed a plan to transform the park into a “multi-purpose community park and learning center” including a bike trail linked into the Fort Circle trail system.

The park is now well on its way to becoming a beautiful green escape in the midst of a neighborhood which reported a 25% poverty rate (including 37% of children) in 2000 and that, according to Marvin Gaye Park’s volunteer coordinator Brian, lacks even a nearby grocery store. He sees the park as a community-based solution to improving the neighborhood. The park seeks to promote a healthy environment and healthy lifestyles by offering services ranging from African dance lessons, to a farmers market, to movie nights in the park. The park boasts a long running trail, with fitness equipment along the way, and a playground is currently under construction.

We spent the day wrapping “Ooze Tubes” around young trees, ensuring a constant source of water for the trees during DC’s current dry spell, placing mulch around older trees to help keep nutrients and moisture flowing to the roots, and cleaning up a kitchen that will become a cafĂ© to serve food made from produce grown locally at the park’s farmers market.

In addition to one-day volunteers like us, the park also hosts youth volunteers from two of the district’s Summer Youth Employment Programs: The Mayor’s Green Summer Job Corps (currently profiled as our Green Youth Service Program of the Month) and the Mayor’s Conservation Corps . Watching these young people plant trees, whack weeds and pick up trash out of the river through a government-sponsored summer of service and job training program really put the work we do at ICP into context.

We had a great day being outside, doing our best to help the environment and the community, and watching young people at work. We are already planning our next day of service, but in the mean time, we are back to the office, working to support the development of innovative youth civic engagement policies and programs worldwide. To learn more about what we do each day, please visit our website.

POSTED BY: Melea Atkins

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Growing Momentum for Civic Energy: ICP at the National Conference on Service and Volunteering

In late June, ICP’s Executive Director Susan Stroud and Program Associates Jean Manney and Colleen Hammelman journeyed to beautiful San Francisco to the annual National Conference on Volunteering hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNS) and the Points of Light Institute.

We kept a busy schedule including hosting sessions on Summer of Service (SOS) and green service; listening to stimulating panels on topics ranging from service as a strategy for economic recovery to service-learning quality standards to social innovation to corporate social responsibility; and meeting and greeting with exciting and knowledgeable practitioners. Throughout all of this, it was electrifyingly evident that the national service movement in the US is bursting at the seams with excitement, momentum and promise for addressing our nation’s most critical needs.

Inspiring a Movement

On the first day of the conference, we listened to star-studded presentations during a Service Nation luncheon and opening ceremony. The luncheon celebrated this year’s successes while focusing on the important tasks ahead to ensure that “one day…a commonly asked question in America will be…’Where do you serve?’”

The opening general session was full of with inspiring speeches and conversations with national service leaders such as CNS Chair Alan Solomont, Founder and CEO of Be the Change, Inc Alan Khazei, CNS Acting CEO Nicola Goren and Points of Lights Institute CEO Michelle Nun, celebrities including Jon Bon Jovi and Matthew McConaughey as well as influential policymakers including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, First Lady of California Maria Shriver, and, of course, First Lady of the US Michelle Obama. It seems a true testament to the momentum for national service that such a tremendous group of personalities would come together in front of over 4,500 people from the national service field to highlight the importance of their work and the promise of service.

Many indicators, including the new US administration’s policy priorities, provide compelling evidence of why the time is right to focus on youth civic engagement. President Obama has made service a cause of his presidency and both he and Mrs. Obama continue to express their commitment to engaging all Americans in service opportunities. It is an important and exciting time for exploring new opportunities for young people to participate in and fully contribute to the development of their communities while also improving their own skills.

Throughout the first day (and conference), we heard many inspiring quotes speaking to the commitment to promoting national service as a habit of citizenship. First Lady Michelle Obama said during the opening session: “We have an Administration that understands that service is key to our nation’s prosperity.” Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, also addressed the Service Nation Luncheon saying, “This is about changing communities, changing the nation, changing the world.”

ICP’s Contribution

For the next two days, business leaders, service practitioners, policymakers, teachers and others committed to national service in their communities met, discussed and collaborated on wide-ranging panels to help improve their work. ICP hosted two panels focusing on Summer of Service (SOS) and Service as a Strategy for the Green Economy.

ICP Program Associates Jean Manney

and Colleen Hammelman and Executive

Director Susan Stroud attending the Business

Funders Reception.

SOS could become a national ‘rite of passage’ with the potential to reverse negative trends for youth and increase their potential for future success, while also strengthening communities. SOS provides experiential learning opportunities through the common experience of service during the summer months. ICP’s SOS project strives to create strong service programs that engage middle-school aged youth during the summers. ICP's work on this project has included assistance with drafting the legislation, building support among stakeholders and extensive research on existing programs.

During this session, participants heard from Shirley Sagawa, Co-founder, sagawa/jospin consulting; Lisa Bardwell, CEO, Earth Force; Martin Friedman, Executive Director, Education Works; Elson Nash, Acting Director, Learn and Serve America and ICP Program Associate Jean Manney. Through panel presentations and an interactive discussion, participants learned about new developments in federal funding, ICP’s SOS Online Resource Center and the program design and evaluation toolkits we are developing. Panelists and participants discussed the need to engage middle school students in intensive, structured summer service-learning opportunities focused on civic engagement and the importance of connecting summer opportunities to year-round programs.

In addition, ICP Executive Director Susan Stroud moderated the Service as a Strategy for the Green Economy forum addressing how civic innovators are harnessing citizen service as a key strategy for tackling the problems facing our environment. The panel presented strategies from various streams of service and service-learning supporting development of a green economy, contributing to long-term economic growth and positive climate change. Leaders and innovators in the green movement such as Sally Prouty, CEO, The Corps Network; Vivian Chang, Political Director, Green For All; Lisa Bardwell, CEO, Earth Force; and Ray Rivera, Director of External and Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of the Secretary, Department of Interior, participated in an informative discussion.

In particular, the session presented green service, through conservation corps, service-learning in K-12 and higher education, national service and Senior Corps, as a positive strategy for building a green economy, providing training and credentialing in new careers and acting a first rung in pathways out of poverty. In addition, the Department of Interior’s new Office of Youth was discussed as it undertakes efforts, in collaboration with the Corps Network, to engage 100,000 young people in the environment.


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