The case for an American ‘year of service’

In times of national crisis, Americans have a history of coming together and giving back.

In the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt put 3 million unemployed men to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps. During the Cold War, President Kennedy told Americans to “ask not” what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country, setting the stage for the establishment of the Peace Corps. And after 9/11, millions of Americans stepped forward to serve their neighbors, as volunteering soared and national service opportunities grew to lend a hand both at home and abroad.

Today, our nation suffers from an erosion of trust in one another and our key civic institutions. We see the effects all around us — from the fraying of American communities to concerns about our national government. How do we rescue a sense of national purpose and restore confidence in our democracy and ourselves?

General Stanley McChrystal (Army-Ret.) has awakened the country to a big idea — to make a year of national service a rite of passage for 18-28 year olds. Large-scale national service would deepen Americans’ understanding of the responsibilities, not only the rights of citizenship, and cultivate the next generation of leaders, who can work together across social and political divides to produce results for our country.

 

McChrystal correctly argues that national service programs are deserving of Congress’ continued support. We agree and have joined his Service Year Alliance to make a year of service a common expectation and opportunity for young people. We believe states have a great role to play in expanding these opportunities. Here, we offer our “two state solution for national service” to inspire other states to join this cause.

In Virginia, under first lady Dorothy McAuliffe’s leadership, we’ve worked to promote national service, partnering to engage every college and university in the commonwealth to create service…

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