When we think of community service, the myth of the well-to-do leading the pack in volunteering can often seem all too real.
Yet it’s not a lack of desire that keeps more disadvantaged youth from serving their communities. Seventy percent of the nearly 7 million opportunity youth – those ages 16-24 who are not in school or the labor market – say they are interested in doing community and national service, according to a 2012 report from Civic Enterprise and America’s Promise Alliance. Only three percent of them actually realize that goal.
In advance of the upcoming 21st Century National Service Summit, leaders in national service and community-based nonprofits gathered in Washington, DC, for an in-depth discussion on what’s needed to make civilian service a larger part of American culture. The panel was hosted by the Aspen Institute Franklin Project and the Forum for Community Solutions.
“If national service isn’t a lifeline to hope, and to school and a decent job, at the end of the pipeline, I think we will have not fulfilled our promise,” said John Bridgeland, co-chair of The Aspen Institute Franklin Project.
During the meeting, Bridgeland cited a group of children from low-income sections of Washington, DC. The children are part of the Earth Conservation Corps, which encourages youth to dedicate nine months to a year of service to restore the Anacostia River, and in turn, their lives.
Bridgeland, on the board of the ECC, has invested in DC youth like Darryl, a volunteer who had also gone through the program.
“We’re looking through the nest of the bald eagle that these young kids rescued for our country, and [Darryl says], ‘Bridge, that’s a lifeline to hope.’”
Below, Bridgeland talks about national service in the US:
Watch the full panel discussion here.