Twenty-five years ago, when the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) opened its doors, service-learning was a little-known strategy for engaging young people in building communities and improving education through service.
But over the years, young people have demonstrated what they could do through service-learning: improving reading scores for younger students, preserving historical sites, restoring natural habitats, spearheading important traffic safety changes, helping families get health insurance. Youth involved in service-learning gained new academic, civic and leadership skills, while adults gained a new perspective on youth as resources for themselves and their communities.
We know now that service-learning can be an on-ramp to a lifetime of civic investment and active citizenship. Research published by NYLC and others over the past decades demonstrates that youth who participate in service-learning are more likely to vote, stay in school and contribute to their communities in the future.
According to “Engaged for Success,” a national survey by Civic Enterprises released this year, service-learning topped the list of ways high school dropouts said schools could improve. Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study suggest that service experiences required as part of high school courses raise the odds of college graduation by 22 percentage points.
In addition, the service-learning movement has embraced new evidence-based standards for high-quality service-learning practice.
Yet, even as research brings to light new evidence about the powerful effects service-learning can have, resources devoted to this promising strategy have stagnated. Funding for Learn and Serve America, the federal program that offers financial support for K-16 service-learning, was never robust to begin with, and has been cut by about 20 percent from its high point of $50 million.
But efforts are afoot to change things.
Leaders from every sector of American society are coming together in a bold new initiative called ServiceNation. Dedicated to the belief that service should become a more integral part of who we are as a nation, this coalition wants to bring national service to scale. Along with service-learning, Peace Corps, adult volunteerism, AmeriCorps, VISTA, Teach for America, YouthBuild and other programs supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service will benefit from the ServiceNation policy platform and subsequent legislation called for.
Beginning with a planned presidential candidates forum on Sept. 11 in New York City, followed by a nonpartisan gathering of 500 leaders to ratify a Declaration of Service, this diverse group of organizations and leaders supports national service legislation designed to engage 1 million Americans regularly in service by 2020. After the summit, a Day of Action on Sept. 27 will involve more than 100 organizations and 1 million individuals in advocating the legislation behind ServiceNation.
You can become involved in the ServiceNation effort in three important ways. Organize a Day of Action event for Sept. 27 with friends, an organization, a school, a church. Invite your local and state officials to participate in a Day of Action. And spread the word by telling your friends across the country about ServiceNation. To learn more visit www.bethechargeinc.org.
James C. Kielsmeier is CEO of the National Youth Leadership Council. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.