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National Service

A New Call to Service

Pete often says that his time as a Navy Lieutenant in Afghanistan was a life-changing experience, in large part because he got to serve alongside people from every conceivable background. 

“In many ways, we had nothing in common except the fact that we were all American. But the men and women who got in my vehicle didn’t care if I was a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent. They just wanted to get home safe, like I did.” 

Pete believes that this experience of serving your community or your country, of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other Americans for a greater purpose, is one that young people should be able to have without having to go to war. Pete believes that it can be achieved through national service.

“A New Call to Service” opens a pathway for young people to meaningfully engage in their communities and in communities around the world, and focuses on key challenges of our time: resilience and sustainability against climate disruption; addiction, mental health, and substance use; and long-term caregiving and intergenerational mentorship. 

At this moment, when social media and deepening polarization have put us into distinct bubbles, national service is that much more essential to fashioning a common character. This announcement is just the beginning. On the trail, we will continue to meet with local service leaders, and in the coming months we hope you will join us in a National Day of Service, to further root our campaign in an ethos of service.

There are record amounts of youth interest in AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, programs that provide paid service opportunities for motivated changemakers. But due to insufficient funding, only a fraction of applicants get accepted.

Piecharts showing that current demand for service opportunities outstrips supply

Policy Outline

In the great unwinding of American civic society underway, and at a time when Americans are experiencing record-low trust in fellow citizens and American institutions,Brenan, Megan. “Americans’ Trust in Government to Handle Problems at New Low.” Gallup. February 14, 2019. few — if any — single policy solutions carry the promise of democratic renewal more than national service.73% of current high school students want to serve their country in government, military, or civic society (Service Year Alliance). Internal document. We have record youth interest in national service and a robust civic infrastructure already in place.According to the Urban Institute’s 2018 Nonprofit Sector in Brief, “the nonprofit sector contributed an estimated $985.4 billion to the US economy in 2015, composing 5.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Over 100,000 501(c)(3) public charities have annual expenses over $500,000–a good proxy for the capacity to host at least a couple young people doing a year of service.”American youth are clamoring to serve, yet the acceptance rates for all service opportunities are low: 13% for AmeriCorps,“AmeriCorps Week Marked From Coast To Coast.” Corporation for National and Community Service. March 23, 2012.25% for Peace Corps,“The Peace Corps Announces Record-Breaking Application Numbers in 2014.” Peace Corps. October 8, 2014. and 20% for the military.Ernst, Douglas. “No, Uncle Sam Doesn’t Really Want YOU: Military Now Turns down 80% of Applicants.” The Washington Times. May 13, 2014.

The policy aims to vastly expand paid service opportunities through three key efforts:

Three steps to the national service plan

Step 1: Service for All (who want it)

  • Fund the Serve America Act to increase paid service opportunities from 75,000 to 250,000 in the existing federal and AmeriCorps grantee organizations and through new Service Year Fellowships, targeting high school, community college, vocational, HBCUs and MSI students, and opportunity youth (out of school and work). Emphasis is placed on high-quality service positions, on-the-job training, leadership development, and mentor-mentee sponsoring.
75,000 current service opportunities to 1M by 2026
  • An emphasis on cross-country service will enable urban youth to serve in rural communities, and vice-versa, even as the proposal continues to support opportunities for service at home for those with deep local ties and duties.
  • Consideration for public service student debt forgiveness, vocational training, and hiring preference for service fellows.

Step 2: Building Service Communities

  • Create competitive grant funding for cities, counties, and communities to create ecosystems of service around regional issues. These grants would be built on the Cities of Service model (e.g., South Bend’s 2018 Love Your Block award).“Love Your Block.” Cities of Service. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  • This approach will:
    • Foster local capacity; empower local leaders to connect the federal, state, local, philanthropic services to each other; and incubate 21st Century service models. 
    • Prioritize communities of color and rural areas, which are too often neglected in national service efforts. 
    • Prioritize deeper, local ties over grant-writing ability or a nationwide network.
  • Critically, these grants would also incorporate the local public sector workforce (e.g., teachers, firefighters, police officers) who exemplify careers of national service.

Step 3: Service at Scale

  • Quadruple service opportunities to 1 million high school graduates (by 2026 – the 250th anniversary of America’s Independence).
  • Nationwide rollout of the models developed in Step 2, and expanding out-of-state and international service options.
  • Create a position of Chief Service Officer with standing on the National Security Council (i.e. regarding international service, foreign aid work) and the White House Domestic Policy Council.
  • Expand existing and create new service corps including a Climate Corps (Resilience AmeriCorps + 21st Century Conservation Service Corps), Community Health Corps (i.e. with a focus on community well-being, including mental health, addiction, and substance use issues), and Intergenerational Service Corps (i.e. with a focus on caregiving, mentorship, and other intergenerational service opportunities)

Pete's Vision

Our intention is for this proposal to create a pathway towards a universal, national expectation of service for all 4 million high school graduates every year. While strictly optional, we hope service becomes so common that the first question asked of every college freshman or new hire is: “where did you serve?” A new generation of American youth, bound by mutual service and sacrifice, aware of the common values that bind all Americans, influenced by the experience of doing real work with people across races, politics, faiths, income levels, and gender identities, and imbued with an appreciation of the effort required to maintain a democracy can help heal a divided nation.


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