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 Home > News & Policies > January 2002

The Call to Service

The President calls on all citizens to perform some form of service to the Nation for at least two years of their lives. That service can be military or non-military; it can meet large national purposes or local community needs; it can be domestic or international; and it can be done over an uninterrupted period or by accumulating service hours over many years. The intent is to promote civic ties and to foster a lifelong ethic of good citizenship and service among Americans of all ages.

As part of that effort, the Administration will create, expand, and revise service opportunities and will seek to strengthen the Nation’s extensive volunteer and civic networks. The USA Freedom Corps initially will have three principal components: 1) a newly created Citizen Corps to engage citizens in homeland security; 2) an enhanced AmeriCorps and Seniors Corps; and 3) a strengthened Peace Corps. The Administration is moving forward with these efforts immediately and has requested support in its fiscal year 2003 budget. The Administration will also propose legislation to the Congress, entitled the Citizen Service Act of 2002, which will do the following:

  • Support the greater engagement of citizens in volunteering;
  • Provide greater support to organizations meeting the homeland security needs of the Nation;
  • Provide greater assistance to secular and faith-based community organizations;
  • Make Federal support more accountable and effective; and
  • Make Federal funds more responsive to state and local needs.

A Strong Civic Sector

The strength of American democracy has long rested on the spirit of Americans and a foundation of voluntary civic institutions. The formation of voluntary associations to deal with the various needs of communities in our fledgling Nation was the aspect of American democracy that most impressed the French observer Alexis de Tocqueville during his visit to America in the 1830s, and it has distinguished our Nation in the years since.

There are troubling signs, however, that civic ties and social connectedness in America have been on the wane. In his book Bowling Alone, the social scientist Robert Putnam points to a decline in membership in service-oriented organizations such as churches, Rotary Clubs, and PTAs. Moreover, the percentage of people who volunteer in their communities to help solve social problems remains low. According to Independent Sector, only about 44 percent of Americans volunteer. Professor Putnam recently noted that "in the aftermath of September’s tragedy, a window of opportunity has opened for a sort of civil renewal that occurs only once or twice a century. But though the crisis revealed and replenished the wells of solidarity in American communities, so far those wells remain untapped."

There is more that we can do to tap this spirit, and one key strategy is for individuals in communities to seek greater involvement from fellow citizens. Data from Independent Sector (2001 Giving and Volunteering in the United States) indicate that 50 percent of all adults in the country were asked to volunteer. Those who were asked to volunteer were much more likely to volunteer (63 percent) than were those who had not been asked (25 percent).

For America to remain strong, more citizens need to be active, and the great majority of Americans, especially the rising generation, must recognize that they are expected to contribute to the well-being of our society through service. Every American should come to realize that they are able, through service, to repay the debt they owe the country -- a repayment that reflects a Nation’s appreciation for the blessings of liberty.

Call to Service

Americans are generous people with a long tradition of service to one another, their communities and their Nation. The President’s call to service aims to further encourage that ethic of good citizenship and a lifetime of service. Some social observers have called for the institution of a national service draft, which would obligate every young American between the ages of 18 and 25 to put in a year or more of national or community service. As the Administration has noted on several occasions, a draft is neither necessary nor appropriate, but the time is right to foster a climate where the great majority of Americans engage in national and community service.

The President calls for all Americans to give at least two years of service to their country -- a period of time roughly equivalent to 4,000 hours over their lifetimes. Individuals can best determine their unique contributions to family, community, and the country. A national service goal is simply that -- to inspire all Americans to ask once again what great service they can perform to better the lives of others and to strengthen America.

Some individuals may be inspired to volunteer for full-time service in the military and serve their country in a single uninterrupted period; other Americans may be interested in service opportunities in full-time programs such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps. Many Americans will want to continue to seek volunteer opportunities in their local communities over an extended period of time.

The following provides examples of the types of service that Americans may wish to undertake. These are examples only.

  • Military service, including the National Guard and Reserves
  • Volunteering at a hospital or health clinic
  • Volunteering through service clubs
  • AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, or other service programs
  • Peace Corps
  • Volunteering at charities or faith-based organizations
  • Volunteering at schools
  • Service-learning activities done as part of your school’s curriculum
  • Coaching or serving as a mentor to youth

Participation in volunteer efforts can instill the ethic of service for a lifetime in a growing proportion of Americans and add to the nation’s civic connectedness. Americans can continue to work together to strengthen our families, neighborhoods, and country.

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