Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Time To Serve

Community service makes the planet a better place, and Americans always seem to be ready to do their part. Jack McShane, 13, heads to City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, every Saturday to help mow the grass for free. The city cannot pay people to keep the park looking nice right now, but Jack does it because he loves his hometown. Shelly Jain, 22, teaches sixth-grade math in New York City. She is part of Teach for America, a group that recruits top college graduates to make sure that kids in poor neighborhoods have a chance to learn from a great teacher.
Clearly, good-hearted people have the power to change the world. But should doing good works be a choice for some, or an absolute responsibility for all? One idea that is gaining popularity is a system to help every able American complete a yearlong service mission. In a 2002 survey, 70% of Americans said that having every citizen participate in national service is a good idea.
"People understand the idea that this is a great country, but that greatness isn't free," says Zach Maurin, the cofounder of His group has launched a campaign to get the 2008 presidential candidates to endorse national service.Should Everyone Step Up?
In some other nations, young people are required to perform a year or more of service. In Israel, every eligible young person must serve in the military for two or three years. In Germany, young men are drafted into the military, but can choose instead to volunteer in hospitals or charities at home or abroad. In South Africa, health-care professionals must spend a year working in poor areas before accepting a permanent job.
Although the U.S. does not have a formal program, millions of Americans do volunteer. In 2006, more than 61 million Americans dedicated 8.1 billion hours of service. The nation's volunteer rate has increased by more than 6% since 1989. So how hard would it be to insure that anyone could volunteer for a year? Here are some ideas that government leaders and others are considering.
Baby Bond: The government would give every newborn American a $5,000 bond. At age 18, the person could get the money (with interest) after volunteering for a year.
Summer of Service: Over the summer between middle school and high school, students could earn a $500 college scholarship by volunteering in programs to help younger kids.
Rapid Response Reserve Corps: This volunteer group would be trained to help when disasters strike.
National Service Academy: In exchange for promising five years of national service after college, students would get a free four-year education in public-service leadership.
Education Fund for Retirees: For every 500 hours of community service older volunteers performed, they would get $1,000 to be deposited into an education savings account for their children, grandchildren or any student they chose.
Such programs would require funds from taxes, private donations and corporations. People would have to make sacrifices to make these plans work. But the payoff for our nation could be a future of security, prosperity and pride. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 pledged "our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor" to their new country. Imagine the powerful effect this generation could have by pledging just a little of their time.

From Time For Kids

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