by Silda Wall Spitzer
In this time of typical partisan politics, something atypical, indeed remarkable, has happened. The Republican and Democratic candidates have agreed on an important issue. This week, John McCain and Barack Obama are coming together at the ServiceNation Summit Presidential Forum in New York City to affirm the importance of citizen service as integral to their vision, as it was for our forefathers. As a member of the ServiceNation Leadership Council and as an advocate for youth service, I find my hope restored by this unity of commitment. My real hope: to see service learning become a component of every U.S. child’s education from an early age.
I became involved in this area over a dozen years ago. As an exhausted parent of three little ones coming from a family steeped in service, I could not find easy, meaningful volunteer and philanthropic opportunities to teach them about social responsibility and community involvement. I discovered that this was so for most all children, not just mine. So with the help of about 20 other like-minded parents, I created Children for Children, an organization with an array of educational youth-service programs that enable children of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds to give their time, talents and resources for the sake of others.
We began based on our own gut needs, but we soon learned of study after study that fortified our instincts that youth service is one of the most cost-efficient and effective investments we can make not only in our children but in our nation’s future too. Youth service builds a sustainable foundation for national service. It instills problem-solving skills, leadership, judgment, and self-discipline. Young volunteers perform better academically. And studies suggest that involvement in service increases graduation rates.
If every parent and educator knew what the social and emotional learning studies show, I don’t think they would rest until their children had such service opportunities!
Nearly 13 years after I began Children for Children, it has grown into a multifaceted organization that offers a full range of entrepreneurial, hands-on volunteer opportunities and programs for young people to solve real-world problems. Through CFC, young people ages three and up tackle issues such as the environment and childhood obesity. They serve hot meals to the hungry, help to organize book drives, bring small gifts and good cheer to elderly centers, and provide bed nets in Africa. Young people who serve learn that they have the power to change their world.
Here are two easy ways to join me in promoting youth service: First, if you’re a parent, a young person, or work with young people, visit www.childrenforchildren.org to learn more about service-learning opportunities. Second, commit to a day of action on September 27, when ServiceNation, a campaign to unite Americans in enacting a new era of service and citizenship, will engage tens of thousands of Americans in hundreds of events across the U.S. Any citizen can create an event or attend an existing event by signing up at www.servicenation.org.
After spending part of her summer volunteering at CFC, working on a project in to supply bed nets to children and families in malaria-endemic countries, my eldest daughter began her first year of college. I’ve seen in all three of my daughters the impact of youth service—they have that sense of responsibility that comes from looking out not only for themselves but for others too. That’s the spirit that I aim to spread. Together, let’s bring back the voluntary citizen service that our country was founded upon.
Silda Wall Spitzer is founding chair of Children for Children and the wife of Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York.