An old `new idea’
Often some of the best “new ideas” are reaffirmations of our time-tested values and traditions. In decades past, many young Americans got their first taste of public life through military service or community service in hospitals or other care-giving institutions. Almost all remembered those experiences as life-changing and exceptionally gratifying. Faced with difficult challenges, our nation has always relied on the actions of its citizens to lead the way. As the spontaneous acts of patriotism after Sept. 11 have demonstrated, we do not lack the spirit to overcome great challenges. However, we do lack the strong institutions that help recruit and organize citizens into service. Unlike a half century ago when institutions such as the military draft helped shape young Americans into the “greatest generation,” today the desire to serve is not always matched with the opportunity to do so.While we cannot turn back the clock, we can build on what is working right now in communities across America. Over the last decade a small but growing movement has emerged to usher a new generation into the public sphere of causes greater than themselves – national service. It offers the chance for the next generation to contribute to the betterment of others while enriching their own growth through a variety of service activities. Here in Colorado, people of all ages and backgrounds are helping to solve problems and strengthen communities through these and many other projects. National service opportunities range from building houses with Habitat for Humanity to tutoring children with America Reads to fighting forest fires as part of the National Civilian Community Corps. AmeriCorps members also tutor low-income children, teach English as a second language to immigrants and literacy skills to adults, and operate after-school programs. Members also recruit volunteer parents for enrichment programs, teach conflict resolution skills, and provide school-to-work transition support for migrant farmworkers. They also work on trail construction and rehabilitation and wetland restoration.Look at what AmeriCorps and its related initiatives have accomplished just this year:-More than 1,400 students in state colleges and universities will help pay their way through school while aiding their community through service opportunities that are part of the Federal Work Study Program. -More than 9,900 seniors will volunteer for the Senior Corps in either Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions or the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. -The Learn and Serve America program makes it possible for more than 92,000 Colorado students from kindergarten through college to meet community needs while improving their skills and learning the habits of good citizenship. But these numbers, as inspiring as they are, are just a small fraction of our population and are much smaller than the number of people who want to serve. If we are to make national service a culture-changing rite of passage in America we must do more. National service should not be a special chance for a few, but a way of life for all. In honor of National Service Day, June 20, we joined the national Democratic Leadership Council, former DLC chair Bill Clinton, current DLC chair Sen. Evan Bayh, and local, state and national elected officials across the country in calling on all Americans to serve each other and our country in this era of new challenges and responsibilities. But this call to service will mean little without an expansion of the opportunity to serve. Therefore, supporters of national service across the country are also calling on President Bush and members of Congress to enact a significant expansion of American’s national service programs, insist that the Federal Work Study Program provide more opportunities for students to work in community service organizations while earning money for school, and lower the barriers to service in the military by supporting the creation of a new short-term enlistment option. At a time when Americans from all walks of life are asking what they can do to help make our nation safer and stronger, national service offers an answer that points us toward a higher politics of national purpose.Attorney General Ken Salazar, State Sen. Stan Matsunaka and State Rep. Dan Grossman are co-chairs of the Colorado Democratic Leadership Council, a think tank advocating new ideas and the Democratic Party’s historic commitment to economic growth, personal responsibility, community, individual liberty and equal opportunity.
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