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.

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