It's Time for National Service

Article excerpt

A five-year-old child misses his bus and stands crying on a busy road. A toddler in makeshift day-care is beaten for dirtying a diaper. An elderly couple die of cold in their home. Parks are vandalized and unsafe. Young people are blown away by drugs. What's going on here, America? Why do we all have horror stories of unmet needs in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities? There is much that needs doing in our wealthy country and many of us volunteer our services, but they seem mere fingers in the dike.

There's a virtually untapped resource that could be filling many of these needs. Not just filling needs, but enhancing lives, exploring careers, building patriotism, and knitting up America's reputation as a caring, innovative society. The resource is our young people. Yes, those same maligned young people often seen as bored with school, neglecting lessons to work for $90 jeans, or hanging around jobless and opting out of our society with crime and drugs. Have we forgotten that youth is naturally a time of energy, search, experimentation, and high idealism? What can we do to tap this energy and idealism? One thing we can do is establish a National Youth Service Corps. Nine bills are before Congress right now to do just that. We can give them our support. What would a national service program be like? Bill sponsors agree that it would start modestly with a few thousand recruits and would gradually increase as support staff was trained and work opportunities expanded. Volunteers from 18 to 24 years of age would apply through their local school or post office. Once accepted, they would be assisted in finding the right job for them in voluntary agencies like the Red Cross, the local hospital or library, or in a national park. Some would live at home and others would be off to the Grand Tetons or the South Bronx. The agency where the job was found would supply training, supervision, and a partial stipend. The government would pay the rest of the stipend, provide medical coverage, and award money for further education to those completing a year or two of service. College graduates might be tutoring high school dropouts who in turn might be helping third-graders with their reading. Volunteers might be building a camp in a national forest where city kids could spend a week learning what nature is all about. Those monitoring air, water, and noise pollution could learn the scientific basis of their measuring devices as well as the causes of pollution. Others might be refurbishing abandoned housing. A highway rescue team might be manning a helicopter. Why not? Our young people successfully handled such demanding jobs in wartime. Why not ask them to help build our country in peacetime? Have we any idea whether national service would work? …