Kenneth Cole launches AWEARNESS book

Designer and activist Kenneth Cole launches a book today that tells stories of how to and where to make a difference.

awearness_bookAs part of the AWEARNESS Initiative, Kenneth Cole today launched the book AWEARNESS: Inspiring Stories about How to Make a Difference.

Contributors include a slew of celebrities and community leaders like Robert Redford, Rachael Ray, and Michael Bloomberg.

Kenneth Cole sponsored the Service Nation Summit in September. Cole will make a joint appearance in Boston Nov. 20 with Service Nation founder & City Year co-founder, Alan Khezei.

Also check out Cole’s AWEARNESS blog.

On the Hill, RPCVs in, RPCVs out

The Peace Corps Polyglot—the blog of the National Peace Corps Association, the independent group of images-2Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV)—announced last week that RPCV Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT) was defeated Nov. 4.  Shays served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji (1968-70).

The blog post also follows the fate of other RPCVs up for election this fall.

Shays has been an active proponent of national service in the House and participated in the Service Nation Summit September 12th in New York. He co-founded the bi-partisan Congressional National Service Caucus in 2004.

On the topic of national service, from his Congressional web site:

I believe national service is one of the wisest and least costly investments our government can make. For example, AmeriCorps volunteers provided:

• 3.8 million CNCS program participants;
• 216 million hours of service;
• Recruiting and/or managing 1.8 million volunteers.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 72 percent of AmeriCorps members continue to volunteer in their communities after their term of service ends and 87 percent of former AmeriCorps members accept public service employment.

National service benefits both the recipient and the giver. Volunteers not only address an immediate need, they lead and teach through example, and through that example they learn the value of serving and helping others.

I still remember how I felt as a 14 year-old watching the 1960 Presidential election between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. I felt energized listening to Senator Kennedy when he spoke of the Peace Corps and making the world a better and safer place. I wanted to be part of his vision. Years later, that dream was fulfilled when my wife Betsi and I served two years in the Peace Corps.

The same powerful emotion, the same sense of energy, eagerness and anticipation we felt in the sixties, is alive today.

Read the independent Peace Corps Online story about Shay’s loss.

AmeriCorps Alums Asks You to Take Three Steps for National Service

As a member of the Service Nation organizing coalition, AmeriCorps Alums is asking its members to take three steps in the coming weeks:

1. Sign the Declaration of Service, and join with one million+ Americans to express your support for service
As we pause for reflection on this September 11th, AmeriCorps Alums asks that you spend a moment to reflect on the value of service, and its importance in your life and to America.  And if you find that it carries value for you, as it does for millions of Americans, AmeriCorps Alums asks that you take less than 60 seconds to join with over a million other Americans in renewing the call to service by signing the Declaration of Service.
2. Participate in the ServiceNation Day of Action on Saturday, September 27, 2008
Thousands of communities around the nation will mobilize on September 27, the Day of Action, to demonstrate the impact that service has – and could have – upon our country and the power of citizens to create large scale change.  Over 2,000 events are planned in all 50 states, and AmeriCorps Alums wants you to get involved in your community.  To register or learn more, click here now.
3. View the ServiceNation Presidential Forum on Service
The ServiceNation Summit (September 11-12) included a presidential candidates’ forum the evening of September 11, where Senators McCain and Obama spoke in depth about their views on the role of citizenship and service in post-9/11 America.  We encourage you to watch the recorded highlights of this event to learn more about the candidates’ plans for national service.  To view, click here now.

Service Nation Summit: Building Bi-Partisan Support

Notes from the panel discussion Building Bi-Partisan Support

See the Change/Wire post 10/29/08.

Friday afternoon, I attended a session on Building Bi-Partisan Support for national service.

Introductory remarks:

RPCV Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): Service alters your life in ways you can’t imagine, and the lives of the people you serve. Domestic service isn’t just about doing good and feeling good. It’s practical. For every dollar put out through national service, we save four or five dollars. The provider, the community, the tax-payer all benefit. That is how we convince Congress.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (NY): When she was first a member of Congress (after 30 years as a nurse), she started out serving in a committee that she was elected to, but that she didn’t know that much about. Started to look at re-authorizing the Give Act, she was amazed because she didn’t know that it existed. She knew a lot of people who were giving their time but they weren’t communicating among each other. Legislation is impossible without bipartisan support.

Rob Portman, Former Republican Congressional Representative from Ohio and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget. We must publicize ways to measure the value of service. Must demonstrate the value when there are competing priorities and a deficit. Government leverages service and volunteerism. Provides matching grants to coalitions. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have served. We have results. For example in Cincinnati, the anti-drug campaign has been successful. If AmeriCorps were a government program from Washington it wouldn’t have worked. Because of the grassroots ownership AmeriCorps is successful.

Giselle John, Public Allies Alumna. (Excellent speaker, so inspirational. She fills up the room with her

Public Allies Alumna Giselle John

Public Allies Alumna Giselle John

passion.)  She says she is a return on that Federal investment in communities (national service funding). Says her job on the panel is to be the living testimony of the value of national service. “It’s a conversation worth having.” When she found Public Allies New York, she was aging out of foster care, held down a $5.15 an hour job, was going to be homeless — again — because she couldn’t afford to rent a place. Public Allies bridged the gap between foster care and her public service career. Public Allies helped her learn to serve her community. Annie E. Casey Foundation consultant serving three county sites working on foster care issues. (Throughout the Summit, the most impressive speakers have been the national service alumni, from Mallory Josol, to Chris Dodd, to Giselle. Nice going, Alums!)

AnnMaura Connolly, Sr. Vice President, Public Policy and Special Initiatives, City Year. How we build support is by sharing stories, understanding the impact on the Corps members as well as the people they serve. We haven’t done a good enough job of sharing stories of participants and communities. During times when AmeriCorps funding has been threatened, it clearly revealed what would happen if AmeriCorps funding were pulled out. An example is Giselle John telling her story. Alumni can tell their story more powerfully than anyone else.

Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) Don’t give up on Republicans because it won’t happen without them. If any party should promote public service, it should be Republicans. Rush Lumbaugh scoffs at the idea of paying volunteers; he feels if you pay them they won’t do it for free. But look at alumni and what they are doing. One paid volunteer can leverage thousands of unpaid volunteers. Don’t assume members of Congress know what you are talking about with respect to how national service works and how AmeriCorps is funded. Show respect and explain it to them.

Moderator: At the Republican National Convention, day two was “Service Day” and day three was “Mock Community Organizing Day.” As McCain pointed out at the Service Nation Summit Presidential Forum, Columbia University encourages some service but doesn’t have on-campus opportunities to choose Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Is the bi-partisan support problem that of language? Can we come up with a definition of service that can resonate with all of us?

Carolyn McCarthy called the nonprofit sector the knitting of the community. So as a member of Congress she works with nonprofits. If national service proponents can win over the Congressional staff, the staff will get to the Member of Congress. Everyday McCarthy said she would go across the aisle and explain what she was trying to do to Republicans, until they began to understand and come on board.

Chris Dodd said it’s not about how you vote (in agreement with, or against) another Senator, it’s about the relationship with another Senator. A disappointment these days is that Congress can’t functions on a level of community because the community doesn’t have time to build. It used to Senators got paid for one round trip home per year, and because of that, they got to know others in the Senate. He said, you went to Washington and you stayed. Now people come in for part of the week and fly home; they don’t know each other that well. (This statement makes me wonder: When did this start to change; can we trace the current gridlock we see currently to this trend?) Fast food analogy: if two major fast food chains destroy each other by running constant commercials about how unhealthy and disgusting each other’s food is, all that happens is the industry of fast food will self-destruct. No one would want to eat fast food anymore. Same thing is happening in politics. People are losing their interest in either side.

Moderator: The Corporation for National and Community Service recently released a study that show that two-thirds of AmeriCorps Alums have entered nonprofit and public sector careers. Does this trend resonate with both sides?

AnnMaura Connolly says we need people in every sector who understand community issues. Private companies, academia, etc.

Moderator: In a time of rising deficits, how do we make national service a must-fund agenda?

Rob Portman says that we use national service to meet needs we have to meet anyway, in a more cost effective way.

Chris Dodd says that the government merely creates the architecture so that volunteer work can be rewarded. It’s a mosaic of organizations that grows and manages the programs rather than the government trying to manage everything.

Service Nation Summit on Friday afternoon

After the Town Hall, Chris Dodd was to speak:

Michael Brown, co-founder of City Year, introduces RPCV Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT).

Chris Dodd, in his opening remarks, says that he has spoken with Ted Kennedy and that Kennedy apologizes for not being here. Dodd announces that he has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Servce America Act. Our candidates are stronger because they have served their country: McCain in the military, and Obama in his community. Their examples of service remind us that who or how or where you serve, but that you serve. Sited the value to his life and values of his own Peace Corps service. Founded the bipartisan National Service Congressional Caucus in the Senate and introduced the Summer of Service legislation. We can’t write a check at all of our problems, but we can invest more in service. We spend in Iraq on one day what we spend all year on AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. We must translate our ideas into action, and change our country. Talk about what we can and must do as a nation, and the role national service plays in helping us accomplish our goals.

In an interview after the speech, Dodd said that we aren’t emphasizing enough how well the investment national service programs leverages community volunteers and resources, and facilitates the growth of strong communities, that would be far more expensive without national service Corps members. When I asked him about the challenge of keeping the spotlight on national service, he said he was committed to doing his part in the Senate and pointed to his emphasis on the movement during his presidential campaign this year.

Also see Building Bi-Partisan Support, a panel discussion with Dodd, following Dodd’s speech.

Service Nation on Friday morning

John Bridgeland, President and CEO of Civic Enterprises kicks off the “party around service” with an enthusiastic crowd. Thanks leaders and organizers et al by name.

Film tribute to those whose lives were personally affected by the tragic events of Sept. 11th, 2001, created by the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.

National anthem! Melinda Doolittle from American Idol Season Six. BIG soft spot in my heart for Melinda Doolittle.

Vartan Gregorian, Service Nation Co-chair and President of the Carnegie Corporation speaks.  Giving is part of our culture. Low income families give four percent of income to charities. Three-quarters of Americans give an average of $1800. annually.  Democracy is not a spectator sport, we have to work to make it a success, we should praise people who serve as elected officials. Benefits of our society oblige us to return the favor. “It’s in giving that we receive” – St. Francis. Become a true citizen through giving. “Live out our passions lest we be judged as not having lived at all” (missed who the paraphrased quotation is from).

Laurie Tisch of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund introduced NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mayor Bloomberg speaks. “When you talk about volunteerism, America needs us,” including military service members who are putting their life on the line for us. We are the beneficiaries of their service. Their families suffer the loss. Service can respond to issues such as global warming. In NY they are planting a million trees. Converting city government, schools, own home to CFL bulbs.

First Lady Laura Bush speaks. Talks about engaging older adults volunteering by mentoring and tutoring youth. Cites examples of national service participants. “We can build an America with 100 million volunteers.” (I apologize for the brief paragraph but I inadvertently missed the first part of her talk. See the text from the White House Press Office. )

Hearing from representatives of different programs:

City Year Philadelphia alum Leon McClain speaks about regretful choices he made to give into peer pressure, and ended up with two bullets in his leg, but turned his life around when he joined City Year. Talks about a student Ray he worked with and the feeling of satisfaction he gets from knowing he made a difference.

Walter Atwood, alum of original Civilian Conservation Corps, upon which AmeriCorps*NCCC is based.

Antonio Ramirez, Youthbuild alum, crediting AmeriCorps with helping him become his family’s first Associates of Arts (AA) degree holder. Has an infant daughter, and he’s proud to be able to create a good future for her and his family.

Brianna O’Brien, Hands On Network staff who served in New Orleans after Katrina.

Carolyn Kennedy (daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy) introduced Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Kennedy’s uncle Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Hatch have worked together on issues for a long time in the Senate together.

Hatch officially announced the bill this morning at the Service Nation Summit and spoke touchingly of his work with Kennedy across the aisle. The senators have worked together for a long time and Hatch’s affection for his friend was obvious and endearing. (Kennedy was convalescing at home.)

In a statement that drew enthusiastic applause, Hatch announced that both Senators McCain and Obama have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation! To the bi-partisan crowd, all supporters of national service, the support of both Presidential candidates means a lot. Hopes are high for national service and the next administration. Other co-sponsors include Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), and RPCV Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT).

In an interview with Hatch after his speech, he addressed a question about the cost to government of national service. The bill, he said, “should please those who are concerned about cost.” He cited the relatively low cost of supporting trained volunteers compared to the cost of allowing high schoolers to drop out, and ignoring young people who have lost their role models to prison and worse fates. Further, according to Hatch, elevating these youth, educating them, and connecting them with job skills will serve the economy well, as will the creation of jobs, including in the energy industry.

After the morning line up of speakers, the gathering broke into panel discussions. See the schedule here.

See Change/Wire (the Service Nation blog) for notes on the Lunch. Follow RocchiJulia on Twitter for tweets.