Skip to main content

Where will you give your year of service?

By Michael Brown and Andrew Hauptman, Special to CNN
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
FEMA Corps volunteers in Far Rockaway, Queens, after Hurricane Sandy passed through New York City in 2012.
FEMA Corps volunteers in Far Rockaway, Queens, after Hurricane Sandy passed through New York City in 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Brown, Andrew Hauptman: We need a civic rite of passage for young Americans
  • Brown, Hauptman: The Franklin Project released a plan for voluntary national service
  • They say the plan calls for setting up 1 million full-time service opportunities every year
  • Brown, Hauptman: Young people can help fight problems such as dropout crisis, hunger

Editor's note: Michael Brown is CEO and co-founder of City Year, a national service organization. Andrew Hauptman is chairman of Andell Inc., a private investment firm, and chairman and co-founder of City Year Los Angeles. Both are members of The Franklin Project's Leadership Council.

(CNN) -- What if the same number of young people who serve in our armed forces, defending the country, were enlisted to go on offense here at home, fighting persistent but solvable national problems -- the dropout crisis, national parks in need of restoration, and childhood hunger?

It's a big idea, one that could make a period of service -- either military or civilian -- a civic rite of passage for America's young people.

This week, the Franklin Project, an initiative of the Aspen Institute, released a "Plan of Action" to establish a large-scale 21st century system for voluntary national service.

Michael Brown
Michael Brown
Andrew Hauptman
Andrew Hauptman

Sparked by a stirring speech by Gen. Stanley McChrystal at the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, the plan calls for establishing 1 million full-time service opportunities every year for young adults, ages 18 to 28, putting domestic national service on par with the more than 1 million Americans on active duty in our armed forces.

It's a plan that is strongly endorsed not only by nonprofit, philanthropic and private sector leaders, but also people who have dedicated their lives to our national security, including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones, and McChrystal, who is chairman of the initiative's leadership council.

Linking military and civilian service as "two sides of the same coin" is perhaps the Franklin Project's most resonant chord. A vibrant nation requires a shared sense of commitment and shared experience of service and sacrifice. But as McCrystal observes, "Less than 1% of Americans serve in the military—a historic low during wartime—leading to a broad, complacent assumption that serving the nation is someone else's job."

The plan calls for expanding federal programs that are already working, including AmeriCorps, and generating energy behind new ideas. For example, the plan proposes that President Obama ask all federal agencies to examine how they might tap citizens in service to meet their missions.

FEMA is already saving $60 million by utilizing national service participants to respond to disasters. We can also expand the opportunities provided by the GI Bill to encourage veterans to continue their service at home -- in schools and community centers -- so the nation can continue to benefit from their dedication to a greater cause.

The demand for opportunities to serve has been growing dramatically. In 2011, AmeriCorps received 582,000 applications for only 80,000 positions, and the Peace Corps received 150,000 applications for 4,000 full-time placements. There is an overwhelming desire among the rising millennial generation to give back. Missing are clear pathways and opportunities to serve. As recent polling demonstrates, four in five voters support voluntary national service.

The "Plan of Action" calls for tapping this wellspring of American idealism to meet pressing national challenges. High on the list is the nation's dropout crisis. Each year, more than a million students fail to graduate with their senior class. Dropouts are eight times more likely to be incarcerated, and three times more likely to be unhealthy or unemployed. Absent effective intervention, the 10 million students who are projected to drop out in the next decade will cost the nation $3 trillion in lost wages, health care expenses, welfare benefits and incarceration costs.

The good news is that research has shown that future dropouts can be identified, as early as the sixth grade, by early warning signs such as high absence rate, poor behaviors and getting an "F" in math or English. What's needed to close the gap? More people power.

"We've seen the power of having young adults serve in our school through AmeriCorps," said Los Angeles Superintendent of Schools John Deasy. "When a student doesn't show up to school, they get them back in. When they're behind academically, they help catch them up. These young people bring an infectious energy and idealism that makes a huge difference. The only problem is that we don't have enough of them -- we need to scale up national service and tap more young people to give a year of service. It's a resource you can't put a price tag on."

The Franklin Project's "Plan of Action" has a powerful response: Calling for 120,000 young people to serve as full-time tutors and mentors in the nation's "dropout factories:" the lowest-performing high schools and the elementary and middle schools. It is just one example of how young people, perhaps the nation's greatest untapped resource, can help America succeed.

One day, the most commonly asked question of a young adult can and should be, "Where will you give your year of service?"

The answer to that question is the key to our nation's future success.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Brown and Andrew Hauptman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT