As we approach this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am filled with a particularly deep sense of gratitude. Dr. King’s life of service forever changed the course of our history, and I am thankful that my daughter will grow up in a country made better by Dr. King’s work, although one where his dream remains yet to be fulfilled.
Last year, as my family and I celebrated the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps—a program my father helped create during his Presidency—I often found myself thinking about the future of service and volunteerism in the United States. Since AmeriCorps was founded, more than 800,000 young Americans have fulfilled their desire and commitment to serve, contributing more than 1 billion hours of service to make our country stronger. And, even more young Americans have raised their hands than there have been opportunities to serve. In 2011 alone, 582,000 people applied for the 80,000 AmeriCorps positions available. Service alone cannot help us reach Dr. King’s dream, but it is a vital part of building the country and community he envisioned.
That’s why the Clinton Foundation and our partners have set our sights on both creating more positions to help meet the demand to serve through Americorps and on strengthening the role of service as a fundamental part of American life. When we talk about service, we mean military service, Americorps service, community service and all the ways in which Americans engage in service.
While I remain cognizant of the work ahead to ensure all Americans who want to serve are able to do so in the way that best matches their aspirations and skills, I am proud of the progress that has already been made. At the CGI Annual Meeting in September (only days before Charlotte was born!), my father and I were thrilled to announce a remarkable new commitment by the National Service Alliance, which includes ServiceNation, The Aspen Institute, Voices for National Service, and the National Conference on Citizenship, with additional support from Airbnb, the Lumina Foundation for Education, Cisco, Comcast, NBCUniversal, Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, and Joshua and Anita Bekenstein. The Alliance’s commitment, “Service Year,” includes a five-part approach—focusing on technology, education, culture, employment, and communications—and is being carried out in the following ways:
Supported by the Cisco Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Alliance is currently developing the Service Year Exchange, an online platform that will benefit both prospective and current Corps members alike. This site will be used to research service opportunities, share experiences, fundraise, and provide online educational resources.
In order to recruit the best candidates, the Alliance is building partnerships with more than 150 higher education institutions—thanks to the Lumina Foundation and the Center for Adult and Experiential Learning—with the goal of making the Service Year a college credit program that will earn Corps members a Service Year Transcript upon completion.
The Alliance has strategized ways to spread the word about the program and to gain support through the use of popular culture, specifically social media, television script integration, and celebrity endorsements. ServiceNation is working to develop these partnerships, with the generous support of Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, to build a cultural expectation of service among America’s youth.
The Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project is developing partnerships to help Corps members successfully transition into the workforce following the completion of their service. Working to engage Opportunity Youth in this process—specifically 16- to 24-year-olds who are unemployed and not in school—Service Year will provide an avenue to job training and full-time employment.
Finally, Voices for National Service, in partnership with FrameWorks Institute, will develop a new national communications campaign strategy to improve the Service Year experience and to better convey the program’s unique benefits.
Using the five-part plan, the Alliance seeks to develop 30,000 new national service positions by 2017. The goals outlined above are certainly ambitious, but the effort must be ambitious, as the importance of investing in our country’s future cannot be overstated. As our partner Zach Maurin, the Executive Director of ServiceNation, puts it, “Our nation faces immense challenges, and we know that there is no better way to tackle them than by encouraging young people to dedicate a Service Year in their communities.” Tae Yoo, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Cisco, adds that, “by giving young Americans a stake in the outcome of their communities, we can renew our civic identity while providing people with skills and experiences that they can use throughout their lives.”
I am tremendously grateful to the National Service Alliance and its many dedicated supporters for this commitment. I hope you will follow our progress as we work to bring the service year experience to more Americans and strengthen our country for future opportunities.