The Value of Community Service: Get Up and Participate in Democracy
Reward yourself and those around you with the benefits of service learning.
Learn how to get in the game with “Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport,” a comprehensive collection of more than two hundred community service opportunities and experiences. More than a simple resource guide, this unique handbook includes interviews, anecdotes, and commentary from the top folks in nonprofit and service fields and ties together the strands of volunteering, community service, and civic engagement.
Cover Courtesy Skyhorse Publishing
It always feels good to get out and give your time and talents to causes you care about—and, now, volunteers are needed more than ever. In Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), UC-Berkeley professor Arthur Blaustein explains that the value of volunteerism extends beyond just the warm fuzzies—it’s an essential aspect of a functional society. The book gives practical information on how to get started, plus the strong arguments for volunteering in the first place. In this excerpt from the “Value of Service” chapter, read more about the importance of learning through service.
Nearly fifty years ago, when President John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps, he articulated a memorable and oft-quoted challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This quote signaled a new, and hopeful, direction in American political and cultural life. The country was in transition, moving away from a difficult and trying period: the pain of the Great Depression; World War II; the Korean War; the threat of mutual nuclear destruction during the height of the Cold War; and the repression and cynicism of the McCarthy period.
And Americans, young and old, responded to the call by joining the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the Teacher Corps, and, soon after, the War on Poverty. It was a time of idealism, hope, and promise.
More recently, Americans responded with the same spirit and enthusiasm to other crises, such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Indeed, volunteerism has a long and honored tradition in the history of our nation. The traditions of community service and citizen participation have been at the heart of American civic culture since the nation was founded. Whether through town hall meetings, the local school board, a political party, a hospital auxiliary, or one of our innumerable other national and local organizations,
Americans have felt and acted on the need to give something back to their communities. Since the events of September 11, 2001, and in the midst of our nation’s severe economic decline, this need has become more urgent as Americans have become more introspective and more patriotic, and more anxious. Patriotism and anxiety have taken many different forms, but one thing is clear: Our concern for our country, our communities, our families, and our neighbors has become more acute, and our need to contribute more urgent.
The response to 9/11 was probably the most vivid example, with firefighters, police officers, and rescue teams leading the way. After September 11, many thousands of ordinary citizens—ironworkers, teachers, public health clinicians, professionals, businesspeople, and schoolchildren—volunteered to go to Ground Zero, or offered their support from a distance. Everything from blankets to blood, peanut butter to poetry arrived in New York City by the bale, the gallon, the barrel, and the ream. Americans didn’t wait until New Year’s Day to make resolutions; in mid-September, many resolved to be more caring and giving.
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