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 http://www.poweredbyservice.org and http://www.ushersnewlook.org. To learn more about EarthEcho International visit http://www.earthecho.org.

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 www.icicp.org

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.


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