In addition to “getting things done” in communities, national service over the last decade has proven an effective way to support the development of those who serve. For example, service-learning, supported by Learn and Serve America, has been shown to increase student motivation and civic awareness and to reduce risk behaviors. At the other end of the age spectrum, volunteering by older adults produces significant health benefits, increasing longevity and functional ability while decreasing depression and heart disease.
To take advantage of the ability of national and volunteer service to improve the development and health of participants, Congress should build on existing programs. Additional investments could expand specific opportunities during key life transitions, when service experiences can have high impacts on life trajectories. Such investments should focus on:
- Young adolescents in transition to high school. Research shows that service-learning promotes positive youth development like few other programs can, motivating students to achieve and teaching personal, social, and civic responsibility. By making a Summer of Service experience a “rite of passage” for young people in transition to high school, whole communities could be transformed.
- Out of school youth. With one out of three youth dropping out of school, including one out of every two African Americans and Hispanics, second chance strategies are badly needed to reconnect them to educational and career opportunities.
- Recent college graduates. By expanding full-time AmeriCorps programs and creating new professional corps targeting fields experiencing shortages of new entrants, national service can play a valuable role in helping to open the doors of careers at a time when young adults are exploring future opportunities.
- Engagement of retiring adults and adults in career transitions. Providing a diverse range of opportunities based on field, hours, skill requirements, and length of commitment could extend the productive years of older adults and make good use of the time and talents of adults of all ages willing to make a serious commitment to their communities.
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