Talk of the so-called “upside” of the recession can sound like warm-and-fuzzy wishful thinking, but when it comes to increased volunteerism, New Yorkers, and all Americans, will soon find it easier to put their good intentions, and free time, into action. This week Ted Kennedy watched as Barack Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, which allocates federal resources—and over $5 billion between now and 2014—to grow the country’s community service workforce from 75,000 to 250,000. The bulk of the effort will be toward education, health and the environment.
The Lion of the Senate, as Senator Kennedy is known, inspired a bipartisan groundswell behind the legislation, with Republican Orrin Hatch co-sponsoring and John McCain expressing strong support.
There are enormous needs in our society that government does not have the resources to deal with, especially in this weak economic climate. Likewise, the private sector finds its ability to support charities severely curtailed. And if there’s someone who’s proved he can move millions of people to action, it’s the man currently in the White House.
Here in New York, the call to volunteerism is likewise being amplified by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who this week announced the creation of a N.Y.C. Civic Corps, which will funnel volunteers toward organizations in need of help, such as nonprofits as well as city agencies such as the auxiliary police force. It’s worth noting this is no last-minute gimmick to make City Hall look good; members of the Bloomberg administration have been meeting with public- and private-sector groups for several months, to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to maximizing volunteer manpower. Meanwhile, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is asking every school to come up with a system so all students can get an early taste of volunteering.
It’s no secret that, once experienced, the act of giving of oneself, without hope of payment or even praise, can become one of the most meaningful ingredients of a well-lived life. It’s great that, nationally and locally, the process is being streamlined, funded and pushed forward by some of the country’s highest profile politicians.