National service is having a civic moment. People across the political spectrum are calling for expanded national service as a means to unify a polarized nation and tackle problems such as climate change. A $1 billion federal investment in AmeriCorps was included in the stimulus measure passed this year. And philanthropic organizations have invested in innovative national-service approaches to address need during the pandemic and in its aftermath.
This level of support was hard to imagine nine years ago when Stan spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival to a group of 3,000 business and philanthropic leaders, including Laura, about the lack of shared experience and connection between Americans. Noting that such connection came through military service in previous generations, Stan, who commanded international forces in Afghanistan, called for universal national service following high school or college to create that common experience among all Americans.
Since then, the two of us have engaged in an effort to make national service an opportunity and expectation for the next generation of young Americans. We joined forces to fund and chair the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, an organization that has since merged with two other national service entities to form Service Year Alliance. Today, that nonprofit’s Serve America Together campaign, which we co-chair, has an ambitious plan: to change our culture and make national service an essential and meaningful part of growing up in America.