National service projects are good for the country, eagerly sought out by Millennials, and in need of better funding, said panelists at the Center for American Progress (CAP), our parent organization, on Wednesday.
The panel discussion, called "Agency Investments in National Service Get Results" and hosted in conjunction with Voices for National Service, explored how national service projects profoundly impact the lives of both those served and those serving.
Vu Dang, the Chief Service Officer of Baltimore City, described the success of Recovery Core, a program that recruited more than 100 successful recovering substance addicts to serve as peer mentors for people who are currently recovering from addiction.
“[The volunteers’] own recovery from addiction has been strengthened as a result of their service…We have created a pathway for a population of long-term unemployed people to gain experience through service and to help others as well,” Dang said.
Lauren Andersen, a Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that national service organizations can answer President Obama’s call for an increased number of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students by “connecting students to skilled STEM professionals.”
Americans, especially Millennials, are increasingly interested in serving. A recent survey of graduating college students found that they were most interested in working in government, human services, and education—all big focuses of national service organizations.
“I think there is lots of evidence that this is the generation that really wants to serve," said moderator Shirley Sagawa, a visiting fellow at CAP, of Millennials.
Yet young people who want to serve face significant barriers. National service organizations have seen a huge jump in applications in recent years—over 582,000 applicants competed for about 80,000 AmeriCorps positions in 2011—but the number of spots available has been shrinking due to budget cuts.
What's more, many students who want to commit to a year or more of service aren't sure they can afford it—the job market is still problematic, and outstanding student debt totals over $1 trillion nationwide.
Carrie Murray, a recent college graduate and team leader in the FEMA Corps, had reassuring words for struggling students. Her program offers a living stipend and education credits, she said—plus, "There are intangible benefits that…can connect you to the passions you are discovering in college. And those are things that you won’t necessarily get in touch with at your first job."
“It’s been one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Murray said, smiling from ear to ear.
Interested in learning more about the role of national service? Read CAP’s new reports “The Great Public-Service Talent Search” and “Service as a Strategy,” or visit the Voices for National Service’s website to learn how you can get involved.