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Obama To Expand Volunteerism To Meet Global, Domestic Challenges
 
December 24, 2008. Lusaka.

Washington — President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to build on Americans’ fundamental belief in volunteerism to address growing domestic and international economic difficulties.  Obama, both in speeches and on his Web site, has outlined a plan that would vastly increase programs that encourage Americans to engage in local volunteer community organizations both in the United States and abroad.

He calls for more than tripling to 250,000 slots the number of individuals in AmeriCorps, a domestic program where, among other tasks, volunteers help teachers and students in underserved schools and improve public health outreach. The president-elect also wants to double the size of the Peace Corps to 16,000 volunteers to work in other countries on a broad range of development projects, set goals for community service by middle school and secondary school students and provide college credit for hours of public service.

Obama further has suggested an America’s Voice Initiative that would send Americans who are fluent speakers of local languages — teachers, engineers and doctors — to serve overseas in support of public diplomacy.

“People of all ages, stations and skills will be asked to serve,” Obama said in a speech during the presidential campaign. “Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem — they are the answer.”

About 26 percent of all Americans volunteer their services to help those less fortunate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The president-elect has suggested that the U.S. system of volunteerism needs to be revamped to heighten civil engagement and utilize the range of skills that both U.S. youth and retired people can contribute. He has talked about creating an energy-focused youth jobs program to provide disadvantaged youth with service opportunities weatherizing buildings and getting practical job experience. And he wants to expand and improve programs that connect individuals over the age of 55 to quality volunteer opportunities.

In developing his programs, Obama will have a rich well of experience into which to dip, as volunteerism has been part of the ethos of the American experience since nearly the beginning of the nation’s history.

EDUCATION

In many U.S. schools, the concept of “giving back to the community” has been integrated into the curriculum. Volunteering is promoted not just among students, but also with teachers, professors and other school staff. It is not unusual to see an older student tutoring a younger student or a group of students meeting on a weekend to help clean up trash along a local stream.

Obama would like school systems to set a goal that all middle school and secondary school students do a minimum of 50 hours of community service a year. He also would like to see college work-study programs — where students are given a discount on their tuition for work done for the university — shift from jobs in dining halls and libraries to supporting public service projects.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, studies have shown that students who are engaged in helping their community through volunteer efforts are more likely to continue to help with civic duties later in life and have a positive influence on social behavior, attitudes and habits.

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS

Nonprofit organizations are those that operate for the purpose of serving the public or mutual benefit other than the pursuit of profits for owners or investors. Nonprofits in America encompass many types of services and organizations and address issues ranging from global poverty reduction and environmental cleanup to wildlife protection and help on HIV/AIDS challenges. According to the National Center for Charitable Services, there were more than 1.4 million nonprofit organizations in the United States as of 2006. The president-elect would like to create online networks where Americans can browse opportunities for service.

FAITH-BASED ORGANIZATIONS

Volunteering through or for faith-based organizations is one of the most common ways of volunteering in America. These experiences can range from doing faith-based evangelical missions in remote villages overseas to serving at local “soup” kitchens that provide food for the homeless. Although some faith-based organizations incorporate religious teaching, many others simply focus on the mission of providing assistance and relief to targeted groups.

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is growing in popularity worldwide. CSR seeks to align a company’s activities with the social, economic and environmental expectations of others, whether these are people actually invested in the company by owning stock or just the general public with which the company has an image. Increasingly, U.S. corporations are expecting their employees to engage in some level of volunteerism.

“Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger,” said David Eisner, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “More than 61 million Americans volunteer to improve conditions for people in need and to unselfishly give of themselves.”


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