On Oct. 14, 1960, in a late night address on the steps of the Michigan Union, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy proposed the creation of an organization for national service.

Nearly 50 years later, service organizations have reported that students are once again responding to a call to serve.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama proposed a plan to increase the size of the AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000. He said that this push would supply more jobs for college graduates entering a tough economy and provide wages for low-income families.

Fueled by this “call to service” and the country’s ever-careening economic plummet, service organizations around the country have reported increased participation from college students.

Barry Checkoway, a professor in the School of Social Work, said in an e-mail interview that when the country faces tough times, people often step up and participate in service opportunities.

“During troubling times, Americans often strengthen their service at all levels,” he said. “During periods of war and economic turmoil — which is today — they look for leadership, build mutual support and volunteer to serve others.”

Teach For America, at its halfway point of accepting applications for the 2009-2010 school year, reported a 48 percent increase in applicants from this point last year.

Last year had already been a record-breaking year for the organization, as it received over 25,000 applications from over 90 colleges.

Lorraine Anderson, recruitment communications director for Teach for America, said in an e-mail interview that 2009 is already well surpassing those numbers.

She said the increase in student interest can be linked to Obama’s call to join national service programs.

“We see multiple causes for this increase in applicants thus far,” Anderson said. “Including the excitement around the recent election, and the growing enthusiasm among young people to enter public service and make a measurable, positive impact on society.”

The Peace Corps has also reported an overwhelming increase in applications. Since last year, there has already been a 16 percent increase in applications, the largest in the past five years.

Christine Torres, a public affairs specialist at the Chicago Regional Peace Corps office, said that from Jan. 20-21, 2008 to the same dates in 2009, there was a 63-percent increase in applications nationwide.

And according to the Peace Corps Top Colleges and Universities list, the University of Michigan has played its part, ranking in the top five for each of the last four years.

But despite the recent spike in interest, these organizations say they are not planning to expand proportionally to the increase of applicants, and will subsequently be forced to turn down more people than ever.

Political Science Prof. Hanes Walton Jr. said in an e-mail interview that he expects students will continue to respond positively to Obama’s call to service.

“The call to service held when John Kennedy set up the Peace Corps and when President Clinton created the national service call,” he said.

He added that history will likely show it to be successful for President Obama as well.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.