Tapping a Vast Resource through National Service
In 1994 there was a government agency created that didn’t create a lot of scandal and to a large extent went unnoticed. But this government agency has made a huge contribution to the quality of life for all who get involved with it. It is the agency called Americorps created by the Clinton Administration to replicate the success of the Peace Corps to tap the power of national service to aid those in need across America. There has been a lot of talk in the last decade about whether the current generation of young people are as “great” as the generation who fought valiantly in World War II. What the Americorps experiment set out to learn was whether the current generation was as lazy and unpatriotic as was being said in the tabloids or if the current generation, given the chance, could themselves be the “greatest generation” for our times. The results have been phenomenal.
Hundreds of thousands of young people have come forward to volunteer to serve their country and their fellow citizens through national service. National service is a concept that at one time was a core value to all Americans. At one time, children were taught that upon graduation from High School, every young person owed it to their country to serve at least two years of national service before starting family or their new careers. What the Americorps experiment found out is that this value has not vanished from the American consciousness. Thousands of young people have flooded to Americorps in such numbers that there is a waiting list to get the chance to be of service.
President Clinton’s vision to create an agency that would attempt to replicate the success of the Peace Corps of the sixties set a high standard for quality for Americorps to reach. The Peace Corps has become a standard that we all look to of an agency devoted singularly to contributing to the well being of our fellow man around the world and tapping the energy and good will of youth to accomplish this high goal. The stories of lives that have been changed of both those being helped and of volunteers to the Peace Corps are legionary. What few know is that since 1961, 160,000 people have served in the Peace Corps. By comparison, since its inception in 1996, more than 200,000 have served in Americorps in hundreds of different capacities. Americorps has surpassed the model for a great example of national service and it has done so quietly, without fanfare and without the recognition that it deserves. It is easy to recognize the good being done by a service based on the tapping the power of volunteerism in the nation’s youth. We have seen some dramatic examples of how Americans will pour out their service, their hard work, their physical resources and even their money to help their fellow Americans in times of need. Out of some of the most devastating events of our nation’s history such as the 911 attacks and the horror of Hurricane Katrina, we have witnessed some of the most touching moments of human compassion and social consciousness as neighbor reached out to neighbor to help those affected by terrible tragedy. But it isn’t just the victims that are helped by services such as Americorps.
Maybe the ones more blessed are the volunteers. They say that you get back far more than you give when you volunteer. The testimonies of those who have given some of their time to national service are solid proof of that theory. Young people in their late teens and early twenties are just beginning to define who they are and what they will become. By having some months or a few years where their lives are dedicated to helping others will instill a long-term commitment to service, to thinking of others rather than themselves and to patriotism. The patriotism that takes root in our young people form their time in national service is not just the flag waving, song singing kind we see on display on July 4th. It is a patriotism that we saw in World War II in our soldiers and in our forefathers that gave all to make the country great. If national service can instill that kind of patriotism in our youth, we have no worries that America will not continue to be great for many decades to come. PPPPP 743 .