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 http://www.mlkday.gov/.

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 www.serve.gov,

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, www.nationalservice.gov.

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, www.nationalservice.org

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

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