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 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT