Skip to main content

Where will you give your year of service?

By Michael Brown and Andrew Hauptman, Special to CNN
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
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
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT