You love the people + things you give to: Creating a nation of servant leaders

Something I’ve noticed lately is that the more time and energy you invest in a person or an activity, the more you grow to love it.

Something about your brain devoting more wiring to them

…or maybe something about your learning so much about them that you can easily take their perspective (seeing something from someone else’s point of view is the bedrock of compassion)

…or maybe about feeling satisfaction from your efforts, so that you are shaped by the care you give.

So this morning, reading about the “new American rite of passage,” which is meant to be a year of national service, my imagination automatically takes me to a time when every U.S. citizen has the chance to invest time and energy in their community (or any community).

I see faces of adults (national service alums who are now parents, teachers, bankers, florists, landscapers, librarians, mayors, bakers…) who have struggled to understand the points of view of diverse people and systems, to affect change in the lives of others, who’ve created wiring in their brain for people and places on the margins. Who’ve been transformed, or “ruined for life” as Former Jesuit Volunteers claim they’ve been. I see individuals passing their learned insights onto their children, their value of giving.

The Franklin Project (an initiative of The Aspen Institute, and of John Bridgeland & Alan Khazei), published a plan of action that says it this way:

“Service makes citizens. In every generation, Americans who have undertaken national service—in military and civilian capacities—have emerged more connected to their generation and more invested in their country.”

The name of this blog comes from the notion that “The Service” is a nickname for military service, and that new generations of citizens have the chance to form a new service — meaningful direct and indirect service here in the States and elsewhere. My grandfather, a WWII vet and internee, said to me when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in China, that he was proud of me for serving my country. I can’t describe how much his words meant to me.

Naturally there are many subcultures in which “service” looks exactly like being a member of a community — service isn’t always joining a program, moving to a new place, tracking your hours, and following a Federally approved position description as an AmeriCorps member.

That said, I’m excited to see what comes of  the movement, both what comes next and what comes in time for the current generation of children when they are ready to come of age.

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Graduating AmeriCorps Members and Career Transition Needs

For a course in training needs assessment, I have been researching the career transitions needs of AmeriCorps members in Oregon the past couple of months.

Happy AmeriCorps Week! Drawing by Matt Honore - Oregon State Service Corps staffer + AmeriCorps alum

So far I’ve:

  • looked at extant data, including past pre-workshop surveys, interview transcripts, and studies like Diana Epstein’s The Long-Term Impacts of AmeriCorps on Participants and
  • conducted a pilot study, specifically a survey of 41 Oregon AmeriCorps and VISTA members who are within four months of ending their terms of service.
The pilot study focused primarily on career pathing and networking — skills, attitudes, and performance needs. It’s interesting what is rising to the surface.
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The first thing that jumped out at me in general was that members are thinking about their post-AmeriCorps plan far earlier than I had anticipated. 81 percent were thinking about next steps by Day One of their term. I was thinking the majority would hover around the 6-month mark, once they got a handle on their service project.
Networking
A paradox emerged from the data on networking. The majority of members who responded to the survey rely on networking (with people more established in their careers, as well as with friends and family members) as their top strategies for investigating next steps.
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However, the vast majority of members also find networking problematic in a range of ways — from not knowing whom to network with, to feeling like they are bothering the people they want to network with. In fact, only 24 percent of members said networking was unproblematic for them.
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Strikingly, networking skills correlate with a more positive attitude toward the transition. For the 24 percent of corps members who find networking unproblematic:
  • 88 percent are optimistic/hopeful about the end of their term and their transition to next steps (compared with 65 percent who find networking problematic, and 70 percent overall).
  • 50 percent are “anxious/worried” (compared with 59 percent who find networking problematic, and 56 percent overall).
I’d love to know whether people with a good attitude towards their next steps also happen to have a good attitude towards networking — or if there’s a causal relationship (in either direction) among the two.
Career pathing
The other skill area I looked at included career pathing. I started by looking at survey results for people who report having their plans “firmly in place” — but the arc of their responses for all other questions looked really similar to overall responses.
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For people who are thinking primarily in terms of the role or job function they’ll play:
  • More are optimistic about the impending transition — 91 percent vs. 45 percent who aren’t thinking in terms of role (and 70 percent overall)
  • Most plan to search for jobs after AmeriCorps (versus planning to go to grad school, travel, or do another term of service)
  • The overwhelming majority — 92 percent — plan to find a job when the term ends (versus 36 percent of others)
  • 58 percent started thinking about their post-AmeriCorps career move before they started their term (versus 39 percent of others)
  • More than any other strategy to prepare for next steps, this group relied on reflection (92 percent — most other groups relied most on networking)
  • This group also relied on the widest variety of resources — 8 of those I listed as options in the survey
What’s fascinating to me about this set of numbers is that if I just look at people who are planning to get a job after the corps, a huge number are anxious (72 percent for job seekers overall; 54 percent for those focusing on their professional role) or at least uncertain (64 percent for job seekers overall; only 45 percent for those focusing on their role).
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On the other hand, among members who are focusing more on the issue they care about in their career:
  • 69 percent are excited about the transition! No one else is excited about it. Well, only 26 percent of others are excited about it.
  • 69 percent are heading to grad school (might explain the excitement) — whereas only 19 percent of others are going to grad school
  • 100 percent started thinking about next steps by Day One in the corps
Hmmm…
It appears that focusing on the role you’ll play in the workforce ain’t a bad strategy — at least if attitude is a good indicator. It may be that when you focus on role, you’re relying more on yourself and leaving less to chance or others.
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Literally, this group relied relatively less on networking (though they did network!), more on reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses, and took advantage of a wider variety of career resources available.
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An area for further investigation is, do the frequent opportunities for in-service training offer additional benefits to people entering their career through the lens of role? — because training is often more tied to specific job skills (like grant writing, for VISTAs) than issue.
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These initial findings are really tempting me to keep researching (beyond the scope of my class).
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Happy AmeriCorps Week, by the way!

HealthCorps Interview: Calvin Lambert

Calvin Lambert

Guest post by HealthCorps Coordinator Nathan Allen.

Calvin Lambert is an exceptional HealthCorps Coordinator at a High School in Brooklyn, NY.  Apart from his brilliant work with HealthCorps, Calvin is known for having a laugh that can bring an entire room together.

Calvin is concluding is term with HealthCorps this year and has been admitted to several top-tier medical schools (which he asked to remain undisclosed, as his decision is still pending).  I was fortunate to find a short break in his world-changing to catch up and throw a few questions at him.

Nathan:  I read, on your phenomenal school blog, that you intend to start a program for students where you will serve as a positive male role model for students who may not have one. What will this look like?

Calvin: I envision a forum where young men can come and discuss issues that they are passionate about…there are lots of things these kids deal with day-to-day that they don’t get a chance to express and this will be a place to open up about these feelings. I also want to design workshops here to address things like how to be a gentleman, things like respect, attitude, being professional, sexual education…

I noticed how many guys don’t seem to have respect for themselves and a lot of the time these guys are not focused in the classroom. I know there is a reason for this. I want to give them an opportunity to talk about these things so I can understand and then try to pull the potential out of them.

Nathan: It seems that improving health in all communities requires multifaceted approaches. Some things Continue reading

Blue Engine Accelerates Academic Achievement in High Need High Schools – and it’s Recruiting Now!

Guest post by Alison Fedyna, Blue Engine 2010-2011 Fellow, teaches individualized algebra instruction to a small group of high schoolers daily in New York City. Blue Engine is currently accepting applications for its 2011-2012 year.

A few months ago I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was a recent college graduate on the verge of unemployment, and spent most of my free time obsessively browsing Idealist.org for socially-conscious job opportunities.  Sound familiar?

Alison Fedyna, Blue Engine Fellow

Now, I am in a classroom, looking up at the group of five students that I am working with today. I see four students smiling up at me, thumbs raised to show me they understood the lesson our lead teacher just taught.

I glance over at my fifth student, who is bashfully looking down into his lap. His thumb is pointed down, and is barely visible underneath his other hand that is trying to hide his difficult admission: I’m lost.

As I was rushing back and forth from the one side of the table to the other, trying to keep both the students who were ready to move on with the lesson and the student who needed some remedial work intellectually engaged, I realized something.

If this learning disparity is keeping me this busy with just five kids, how could a teacher with a classroom of 30 possibly do this on his or her own?

It’s simple. She couldn’t. This is how students fall through the cracks. They have learned to just smile and nod and pretend that everything is fine, when in reality they might be completely confused. When a teacher has behavioral issues to deal with, and students are calling for help in ten different directions, the student with his head down who appears to be working diligently is left alone. No one checks to see if he has done the work correctly and no one notices anything is wrong until an alarming test or quiz score shows up. But by then, it is too late.

This is where Blue Engine comes in.

Blue Engine is a new education non-profit based in New York City. Eleven other recent graduates and I are engaging in a year of service as Blue Engine Fellows, working as full-time teaching assistants in a public school.  We conduct small group tutorials alongside experienced classroom teachers, helping entire grade levels of students, from those who need extra help to those who can be pushed to excel, make dramatic progress in core coursework and become prepared for college.

I joined Blue Engine to help students, students just like the ones I was working with today, succeed.  Even though life as a Blue Engine Fellow can be crazy at times, I have the amazing opportunity to see my students growing in both their academic and personal endeavors each and every day.

It is that daily feeling of impact, that wonderful realization that our students are steadily increasing their academic achievement that for me makes all of the effort completely worth it.

It is the end of class, and again I ask the students in my group how they feel about the material we learned today. I glance at the student sitting farthest away from me, and I smile when I see his thumb proudly pointing up for everyone to see.  A few months ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Now, it is moments like this that make me realize I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

To find out more about becoming a Blue Engine Fellow, check out our website or contact us at admissions@blueengine.org.

Youth Civic Participation in Action: New publication highlights global momentum for youth civic participation across the world

Innovations in Civic Participation recently released a new publication providing brief snapshots of youth civic engagement programs and policies in 101 countries spanning six continents.

The report, Youth Civic Participation in Action: Meeting Community and Youth Development Needs Worldwide, builds on information ICP has gathered over the years from previous participants of the International Association for National Youth Service global conferences, from partners throughout the world and as part of various ICP projects.  The snapshots are not intended to be comprehensive, but instead provide a brief glimpse into how youth civic participation is taking shape in various countries.  The publication highlights the growing international movement in which more and more countries are supporting youth and community development by expanding youth civic participation opportunities.

Programs for civic participation can take many forms and work best when adapted to the needs and resources in the local community.  As a result, the snapshots in this publication describe programs ranging from intensive, highly-structured, government programs to infrequent volunteering with community-based organizations; from service-learning integrated into primary, secondary and university curricula to young people creating their own organizations to engage others in addressing issues that matter most to them.

This report demonstrates that young people worldwide are active in addressing the needs of their communities through service including medical students meeting health needs in rural areas in Latin America, young people supporting disaster relief efforts in Asia, service programs bolstering social services as an alternative to conscription in Europe, peer mentoring to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa and young people sparking grassroots campaigns for community development in the Middle East.

Throughout the world, young people are building their skills while meeting critical community needs through service. To learn more about these efforts, please browse through the snapshots on the publication website or view the full report. We will do our best to update the online space with new information as it becomes available. If you have news about youth civic participation programs or policies, please send it to me at Hammelman [at] icicp.org.

Community Shares Stories of Priceless AmeriCorps Service at the Northwest Service Academy Luncheon

A gathering to celebrate Northwest Service Academy.

Monday, 50 members of the extended Northwest Service Academy community gathered at the Lower Columbia Center here in Portland to share stories of the remarkable impact NWSA has had in the community and in their own lives. The gathering felt like a celebration and, frankly, a closing of sorts.

Last month the Corporation for National and Community Service declined NWSA’s proposal for continued funding, and we still aren’t sure why. The organization has been operating an environmentally-focused AmeriCorps program for 16 years that has brought together a who’s who of sustainability organizations, people, and projects in a region renowned for its environmental values. NWSA AmeriCorps members have built countless and far-reaching social and environmental programs.

Unfortunately, the guest of honor for the occasion Ruth Lampie, the program officer from the Corporation for National and Community Service, had arrived in town for her site visit but was too busy preparing for her site visit to attend the summer BBQ in her honor during the lunch hour. The announcement came about 30 minutes into the scheduled luncheon.

Among the speakers at Monday’s event were Idealist’s first Portland intern Bob Potter, Kathy Dang a program manager at Oregon Tilth — the organics certifier — and Katy Kolker, executive director of the Portland Fruit Tree Project which she launched as an NWSA member several years ago.

Without complaining, the gathered community went on with sharing stories and celebrating the remarkable accomplishments of NWSA.

Here are summaries of the stories community members shared:

Bob Potter, NWSA Alum

An NWSA alum, and Idealist’s first Portland office intern Bob Potter spoke.  Bob is the Assistant Director of Operations for the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. As an NWSA corps member several years ago, Bob served two terms, first as a field team member working with an at-risk youth group in Clackamas County and secondly as the volunteer programs coordinator for The ReBuilding Center, a reuse/reclaim program at Our Continue reading