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...

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