Fifty years ago, when John F. Kennedy spoke his famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he called on the American people to dedicate themselves to a spirit of community service. In the same tradition as Kennedy’s Peace Corps, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, which focuses on improving education, green energy and health care through community service programs — specifically, the federal service organization AmeriCorps. The U.S. Senate should act quickly to pass similar legislation and students must recognize the value of community service and volunteer for these projects.
The GIVE Act, which was passed by the House on Thursday, will expand the AmeriCorps program significantly and increase education stipends. AmeriCorps will be expanded to 225,000 service positions, an increase of 300 percent. The education stipend provided for student volunteers in AmeriCorps will also increase to $5,350, the same amount as the maximum Pell Grant. This is expected to cost the government $6 billion in the next five years. The bill is also proposing that Sept. 11 be made a national day of service, though it would not be a national holiday.
Most importantly, the bill aims to use community service initiatives to improve three areas that President Barack Obama has repeatedly stressed: education, green energy and health care. Though the federal government, under Obama’s guidance, has recognized its responsibility to solve these issues, these three areas aren’t just important because Obama says so — they are critical for reviving the nation’s slowly sinking economy and diminishing conditions of poverty. Because the act is focused on pressing issues, this new initiative is a good way to encourage people to volunteer in local communities.
Education in underprivileged communities is one way to bridge socioeconomic gaps and is vital to redirect manufacturing-based economies not only in Michigan, but also nationally. In the same vein, progress in alternative energy technology will open up a booming industry that protects the environment. And, of course, improving health care services are vital for solving issues that underprivileged families continuously face.
The Senate needs to support the House’s bill to make sure these projects become a reality. But the government’s efforts to support community service won’t amount to much unless students take advantage of them. The expansion of AmeriCorps is a prime opportunity for students to give back. While the economy struggles, students are among the few groups of people with the time and opportunity to serve. And while students should always heed the call to service, what’s also true is that service may now be more viable for many students than getting a job after graduation.
Creating a national day of service is a nice gesture, but no one should be waiting around for an official call to go help suffering communities. Students especially should take it upon themselves to make giving back a priority, regardless of whether it’s timely or not.