National Service, Not Lip Service

Back in August I wrote a three part series on the “Civilian Response Corps” and posted it here.  The following is exerpts from a story run in the Boston Globe.

ONE THING Barack Obama and John McCain agree on is that each would make a new call for citizen service central to his presidency. Indeed, last night the two contenders were scheduled to appear (separately) at a televised forum to promote greater civic engagement as part of a Sept. 11 remembrance called the ServiceNation Summit. Done correctly, national service slices across partisan lines, appealing both to the self-reliant “thousand points of light” volunteerism favored by conservatives and the communitarian “it takes a village” ideals that animate liberals.

Today, Washington’s favorite bipartisan couple, Ted Kennedy and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, will file legislation to dramtically increase opportunities for Americans to volunteer, making it as integral a part of citizenship as voting. Using the model of AmeriCorps, the bill establishes five new “corps” for volunteers, including areas such as international service, disaster relief, and a green energy corps, as well as the traditional focus on education and poverty.

The bill creates tax breaks for businesses that give workers paid time off for service, and sets up “encore fellowships” for baby boomers seeking alternative retirements. In all, the goal is to expand the number of Americans who do regular service work to 100 million from the current 61 million.

Vast majorities of Americans say they want to volunteer but don’t know where to start. It is this social infrastructure that national legislation can fund and support – even though some may feel government involvement in volunteerism is a contradiction in terms. Someone needs to train and coordinate volunteers, and get them linked to projects that match their interests and skills. And the bill would provide grants to volunteer start-ups, encouraging the kind of social entrepreneurship that created City Year, and measuring their performance.

Back inj August I did not like the idea, and that feeling has not changed.

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