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Service at Home and Abroad

by Patrick A. Corvington

Last week I joined my good friend Aaron Williams, Director of the Peace Corps, for a lively discussion on the importance of public service with several hundred Howard University students.

It was fitting the event took place at Howard, which has a strong public mission and a long history of service to the community. Howard offers more than 100 programs for students to give back to the community, including an alternative spring break program that is bringing hundreds of students to Haiti, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and other cities this week to volunteer. Our agency has supported Howard’s service efforts for many years, and I was proud to learn that more 650 Howard students have served in AmeriCorps.

It was a privilege to share the stage with Aaron, an outstanding leader and public servant. Aaron shared how his Peace Corps service after college in the Dominican Republic had a transformative effect, putting him on a career path in international development that has included leadership positions in nonprofits, USAID, and now the Peace Corps.

I had a similar path, coming out of college with a quest to give back, and starting a series of jobs working with migrant workers, the homeless, AIDS patients, and troubled youth that led to policy and foundation work and my position with the Obama Administration today. 

Aaron and I have often talked about the transforming effect service has on those who serve. When people are of service, there is something inside us that is awakened, this access to our own humanity, this compassion, that can have a profound and long-lasting impact.

Besides the joy and satisfaction that comes from serving others, there are many practical benefits that come with AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. Service can jump-start your career, providing leadership, problem-solving, project management, and other skills that every employer is looking for.

In our talk at Howard, we heard many students talk about the good that service brings to the soul - and to the career. Their enthusiasm was a reminder of the strong service mindset of today's young people. Shaped by 9/11 and Katrina, propelled by new technology, and motivated by a desire to make a difference, college students are flocking to nonprofit and public service jobs.

They are looking for purpose, for meaning, for a connection to something larger than themselves, and are finding that public service provides that and more. We’re seeing this trend in AmeriCorps – our applications jumped to 535,000 last year, nearly twice as many as the year before.

This is an encouraging trend, because the need and opportunity for public service has never been greater. Whether helping students learn to read, responding to disasters, or assisting the jobless and homeless through AmeriCorps here at home; or bringing clean water, preventing disease, or teaching agriculture through Peace Corps abroad, we need the talents and energy of Americans eager to serve.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, and we recently signed an agreement with Peace Corps to step up our recruitment and coordination efforts. I look forward to working with our sister agency to increase the number of Americans who are transforming communities and their own lives through service.

Patrick A. Corvington is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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