This morning NPR had an interview with David Eisner who heads the Corporation for National and Community Service. This is the agency who oversees the national service programs here in the U.S. such as Americorps* VISTA, National Civilian Community Corps, Teach for America, and City Year among many other state and local programs. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart as I did two years of national service in Delaware with Americorps* VISTA.
AmeriCorps is a network of local, state, and national service programs that connects more than 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet our country’s critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.
Eisner talked about how there was a rise in national service after 9/11 and how there seems to be a bit of a decline in volunteerism five years later. Now there are several reasons for this, but the most important one is publicity. One of the only things that Bush has ever said that I agreed with was his emphasis on the importance of national service for our country. He mentioned this, in I believe a State of the Union address, which was very important to get the word out to the nation that there are ways that you can help in your own community. Well, this support has I am sure dwindled and there does not seem to be a strong national presence for national service. I worked in a high school for a bit when I first got to NC and there were no pamphlets or posters or other promotional materials for Americorps*. When I talked to the guidance counselors they had no idea what I was talking about and yet this is the prime age we should be targeting. There are many students who need to take a year or two off before they go to college and national service is a great option. There are students who cannot afford to go to college and again national service is a great option as after you finish your service you earn money toward college or to pay back loans or other educational expenses. Also, there does seem to be some recruitment on college campuses and since many of the programs are for after college than this is a great place to recruit, but again the publicity is not there to help people realize that they have these options and then look into them after college. We are bombarded by advertisements from the military all the time on TV, radio, billboards, in the hallways of schools, heck they send military recruiters into the high schools and colleges to talk to children and yet the fact that we do not do the same thing for other forms of national service is sad to me. The military is not for everyone, it wasn't for me, but I still wanted to give back to my country and my community and Americorps* gave me that opportunity.
I also wanted to address something else here, Eisner mentioned that he does not think that mandatory national service is a good idea. I totally disagree. I understand his point that right now these organizations are not totally prepared for this and that part of the bonds that develop between the individual who is volunteering and the community is the desire of the individual to be there, but how is someone to develop this interest if they are not given the opportunity to develop this bond. Also, I think that we should have mandatory national service and I would lump a lot of things into that, Americorps*, the military, and the Peace Corps. There are so many options between these three that certainly we could be able to spread out our resources and be able to better our world both domestically and abroad. I am not sure when this national service should be mandatory, but maybe between the ages of 18-25, you would have to give up one year of your life to help others. I know the volunteer organizations are not ready yet, but with some assistance and a large influx of people they could be made ready. There are certainly areas that were hit by Katrina that still need help and volunteers for a year rather than for a few weeks would make a great difference. There are so many urban areas that need people who will tutor students, help restore the rundown parts of towns, help make a real difference with poverty and I am sure a million other things that if everyone volunteered there would be things for everyone to do. This would not have to be an immediate thing, you could slowly phase it in over a ten year period, but it needs to happen if we are going to really be the change we wish to see in the world, to use Gandhi's idea.