Many years ago, on the fifth anniversary of the Peace Corps, I asked one of those young Americans why they had volunteered, and I will never forget the answer:
“It was the first time someone asked me to do something for my country.”
Now it’s time to ask again. Americans young and old are looking for new ways to serve their communities and give back to their country. This hearing will enable us to learn of new and better ways to provide those opportunities to serve. Service has always been a bipartisan goal, and the legislation we’ll hear about today continues that tradition. From President Kennedy’s creation of the Peace Corps to President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light to President Clinton’s AmeriCorps, presidents of both parties have contributed their own ideas about how best to ask the American people to serve their own communities.
I commend President Obama for making it an early priority of his Administration to expand service opportunities across the country to involve many more Americans in meeting our most pressing challenges. In 1990, working with the first President Bush, our Committee approved the original National and Community Service Act. Many of those who worked on that legislation are - leading the way again today. Senator Hatch has committed so much of his life to the causes he believes in.
Senator Mikulski planted the seed for AmeriCorps and has never stopped fighting. I’m proud to work with both of them again on the bipartisan Serve America Act. And I commend Senator Enzi for his support as we guide this bill and the reauthorizations of the National and Community Service Act and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act through our Committee. As always, he’s an excellent partner.
The Serve America Act draws on some of the lessons of the past two decades of service programs—
•Service can make a greater difference in tackling problems if we focus on specific challenges;
•Service opportunities early in life can put young people on a path to a lifetime of service;
•More and more older Americans are interested in putting their skills and experience to work for their communities; and
•Forward-thinking social entrepreneurs are coming up with their own effective ways of tackling some of our greatest challenges.
Now is the time to act on what we’ve learned. The Serve America Act will create new volunteer corps with specific missions. For example, as the major national debate about climate change goes on, a Clean Energy Service Corps will take steps to conserve our resources. As the dropout crisis continues to plague so many of low-income schools, an Education Corps will tutor, teach, and mentor students.
The legislation will also increase service opportunities for senior citizens, to draw on the many skills that older Americans have to offer. It will support part-time volunteering through a Volunteer Generation Fund to increase volunteer management and capacity. It will also increase the Eli Segal Education Award, the value of which has remained stagnant while college costs have skyrocketed. National service has been a cause of mine for many years, and the time is right today to do much more.
I look forward to working closely with my colleagues on the Committee and the President to strengthen service opportunities for all Americans.