By Adam Lounsbury, Executive Director, Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service
Last week, leaders from all sectors and relevant issue areas convened in Aspen, CO, to unveil and plan the implementation of the Franklin Project. At the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, General Stanley McChrystal made the case for an expanded role for national service, stating: “I think we need national service and I think we need it either at the conclusion of high school or university.” The Aspen Institute responded quickly, tapping General McChrystal to lead a group of stakeholders to explore how to move this vision forward in an era of hyper partisan gridlock. The result was the Franklin Project plan that centers first around a push for realization of the Serve America Act, but then around an expanded vision and branding of national service through a National Service Certification system. Through such a system, qualified institutions would become certified to host their own self-funded or privately funded national service positions.
I strongly believe that this could be a great tool for commissions in promoting and building increased citizen service in our states by expanding our toolbox to (a) further engage our partners in meaningful ways to use service as a strategy and (b) advance the role commissions play as service incubators in our states. I also believe commissions could and should play a role in certifying organizations in our state to ensure that the brand of national service is not weakened and to keep national service locally under our commission umbrella. Karen Baker (CA), Jacqueline Johnson (CT), Jeffrey Richardson (DC), and I represented state commissions at the summit and made sure that the parties involved understood that an existing network of state commissions existed across the country that could be a valuable asset in broadening the band of national service. We will be inviting representatives from the Franklin Project to attend our upcoming regional trainings. Below is a link to the Franklin Project plan. I strongly encourage you to read it and provide your input to me, as the ASC Public Policy Committee will also be reviewing it in detail and providing our collective feedback to the Franklin Project and Aspen Institute.
Additionally, a study conducted by the Institute about the public support for national service. I would like to highlight one section I found especially helpful to our cause, but encourage you to read the entire poll.
The strong demand for opportunities to serve influences voters’ support for increased funding. When told that more than 600,000 Americans apply to programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, but more than 80 percent (half a million) are turned away each year because there are not enough available positions, 76 percent of voters say increasing public funding to enable more Americans to serve in a civilian national service program would be worth it, including 93 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents, and 60 percent of Republicans. Some of the strongest support for increasing funding for civilian national service came from Latino voters, with 91 percent saying an increase is worth it.
Link to full study results: http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/pubs/Voters_for_Service_Brief.pdf
Finally, I encourage you to keep an open mind about this as my initial reaction was a negative one, before I allowed myself to separate from our current context. The support being lined up for this project, both through private and public funding and across sectors, is truly unprecedented for national service and that really is a great thing. At the end of the day they want a system that provides for 1 million civilian national service positions annually and embeds national service in our culture, such that 20 years from now when people gather for a dinner party the question, “Where did you serve?” will be common conversation and those that did not serve will be stuck looking at their shoes. To achieve that, the reality is that we need to significantly broaden the network of national service.
Again, feel free to contact me with any questions or immediate concerns. If you would like to formally volunteer to be a part of the implementation teams on this, there will be many opportunities to contribute, as I did sign ASC up for every one of the various sub-groups.
Thanks for your thoughts,
Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service