Monday, July 1, 2013

Mandatory National Service?

I recently attended the National Conference on Volunteering and Service hosted by Points of Light in Washington, DC; a conference that brought together what I believe to be a fairly robust network of individuals and organizations responsible for providing service opportunities to communities across the country. Many of those in attendance were engaged practitioners promoting volunteer service and civic engagement, as well as thought and community leaders who are trying to expand the idea of what it means to serve and how it can be expanded amongst their constituency. 

The 5,000+ attendees were able to choose from an overwhelming number of workshops, talkshops, panel discussions, and keynote speakers around the concept of service and how it can be bolstered to maximize its impact...all in all, it was a good time. 

Yesterday, I happened upon the "National Service Issue" of TIME magazine, in which a lengthy and powerful article explored the idea of how serving others is a way that can be leveraged to help Veteran's deal with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury while serving the greater good. The article talked about studies being done on the impact of service and used real world examples of its effects on returning servicemen and women. While I've always known that service has been a powerful and life changing force, this article made me think about it in a new light. 

What caught my eye however, was not in that article but in the letter from the editor in the front of the magazine. The letter talked about something that I hadn't heard before--something that just took place at the Aspen Institute this past weekend--something called "The National Service Summit" and it focused on a new initiative called "The Franklin Project." Having never heard of this before I looked for a website and could only find press releases and articles which sum it up as:
"The Franklin Project is a new venture by the Aspen Institute to marshal the best case for a voluntary civilian counterpart to military service in the United States. At the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, General Stanley McChrystal called for large-scale civilian national service to engage more Americans in serving community and country. We believe national service can and should become a common expectation and common opportunity for all Americans to strengthen our social fabric and solve our most pressing national challenges. To realize this vision, the Franklin Project engages outstanding Americans from the private sector, higher education, government, the military, faith community, philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations, to develop innovative policy and to build momentum around advancing a new vision of civilian service for the 21st century." ( 
For more on this I'll let reitred General McChrystal fill in the details:

The idea is intriguing and begs a mountain of questions about how this would work, if it could work, how it would be funded, how it would interact with the current wealth of Service Corps opportunities in existence, and most importantly, how do they intend to make universal national service a "new American rite of passage?" (and what exactly does that mean?)

I also find it interesting that just last week over 5,000 of the Nation's community service practitioners were assembled to celebrate and stoke the fires of civic engagement and there was no mention of this. Given the obvious connection between the conference and this initiative, a project that appears to have the potential to significantly impact how we engage in service as a Nation, one would think that the National Conference on Volunteering and Service would be a natural fit to get people pumped--I guess not. While it appears that 'The Franklin Project' is still in its infancy, I hope the plan for this is unveiled soon so that we will have an opportunity to weigh in and openly discuss the merits and potential impacts of this on how we engage in service as a Nation.

If you attended the Aspen Institute event, have filled out the survey / questionnaire they are referring to,  or have additional information on the Franklin Project, please leave a comment, I am very interested in learning more about this.

Also, below is the TIMES article "Can Service Save Us?" as well as a counter-point to the Franklin Project called "Dodge the Draft America." Also, there is a link to the Aspen Institute "National Service Summit" program that outlines the weekends events and gives an attendee listing.

TIMES cover article: Can Service Save us?
Counter point to the Franklin Project:
Aspen Institute's National Service Summit Program:

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