Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog
- Posted byon April 26, 2012 at 9:47 AM EST
Ed. note: To recognize the impact service members have on young children, the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation introduces readers to Naila Bolus, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jumpstart, one of the largest part-time AmeriCorps programs.
When asked how service members expand educational opportunities for preschool children in low-income communities, Naila writes:
In North Philadelphia, 50 Temple University students – all Jumpstart Corps members – have spent the past two semesters immersed in preschool classrooms in one of this city’s most under-resourced communities. Twice each week they trod past garbage-strewn abandoned lots, broken sidewalks and shuttered buildings into classrooms infested with cockroaches. But they can see what many people cannot – the wealth of opportunity in the community and the tremendous potential in the young children they serve. As I sat with a group of eight Jumpstart Corps members this week, they were reflecting on their year of service and the incredible progress made by their “partner” children – e.g. a reticent child now one of the most outspoken; a child who couldn’t recognize the letters in her name now able to write them clearly. As these Jumpstart Corps members prepare to take their final exams, they do so with the pride of knowing that they have helped dozens of children master the language and literacy skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
For too many young children, the neighborhood in which they live remains the greatest predictor for their future success. Indeed, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten 60% behind their wealthier peers, and in the absence of high-quality programs – like Jumpstart – this gap only continues to widen as children advance through school and life. Conversely, research tells us that investing in high-quality early education is the best way to increase lifetime productivity and graduation rates while decreasing crime and other societal ills. In fact, as Nobel Laureate and University of Chicago professor James Heckman has shown, every dollar invested in early education produces a return on investment of at least 7% and in some studies as high as 15%.
- Posted byon April 20, 2012 at 7:30 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th– 21stto recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Paul Woodson, Mayor of Salisbury, NC. The City of Salisbury transformed two neglected blocks of South Shaver Street and is an honoree for the Make A Difference Day city awards. When asked about the impact volunteering has had on communities, Mayor Woodson writes:
Like many Piedmont North Carolina communities, Salisbury was hit hard by closures of textile mills in the ‘90s followed by two deep recessions. The resulting decline in private-sector revenues dug a deep hole in public and non-profit budgets, causing the city government to struggle to provide the same services without a tax increase.
Founded in 1753, Salisbury is an older city with an aging housing stock. To compound the challenge, the housing crisis of 2008 left many homeowners stranded, either battling foreclosure or without disposable income to make needed repairs to their homes. This left a ripple of deterioration throughout many city neighborhoods.
The Salisbury Community Appearance Commission (CAC), a City Council advisory board, spearheaded a partnership with the Council to develop a cohesive concept that would help foster accountability among residents and communities for cleaner, safer neighborhoods -- one block at a time. With Council support, the CAC implemented a unique initiative called BlockWork.
- Posted byon April 20, 2012 at 7:00 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Jerramiah T. Healy, Mayor of Jersey City, NJ. In 2011, over 600 volunteers beautified 80 sites in one day and due to their efforts, Jersey City is an honoree for the Make A Difference Day city awards. When asked about the impact volunteering has had on communities, Mayor Healy writes:
As the second largest city in the state, Jersey City is known as Wall Street West for the hundreds of financial services corporations that are located here. Our city of 250,000 people is one of the most diverse in the nation and we pride ourselves on celebrating both our diversity and our civic pride.
For the past three years, Jersey City has demonstrated this civic pride by participating in Make A Difference Day, the annual volunteer effort sponsored by USA Weekend Magazine and supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service.
For Make a Difference Day 2011, The Jersey City Parks Coalition, conceptualized a citywide planting project named the ‘BIG DIG’. Volunteers would plant hearty tulip and daffodil bulbs in parks and patches of grass throughout the city. Come spring, the fruits of our mutual labor would be reaped.
- Posted byon April 20, 2012 at 6:45 PM EST
While the economy continues to show signs of improvement, there are still many workers who are facing challenges in connecting to new careers. The Department of Labor has encouraged dislocated workers to pursue education and training to improve their skills and better position them to compete for employment opportunities. Many workers have taken advantage of these opportunities, but it is also important to lay a path forward for those workers who have not enrolled in training and seek other options to build their skills and increase their chances to find employment.
Today, the Department has issued guidance—in the form of an Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL)—recognizing that active volunteering can help expand opportunity for unemployed individuals by enabling them to develop and maintain skills, expand their professional networks, and enhance their resumes while helping in their community. Activities such as coordinating an after-school program, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or assisting individuals in filing Earned Income Tax Credit claims all create immediate benefit for individuals in need and underserved communities. Such activities also help the participants to sharpen the soft skills that many employers demand.
We also know that, as more businesses stress the importance of corporate citizenship and shared value, many more are encouraging their workers to volunteer. In many ways, this is not a new development. A wide range of companies such as AT&T and IBM have long standing programs that encourage employees to volunteer. As this trend continues to spread, knowing that a job seeker is already committed to the community may be another positive attribute from the employer’s perspective when assessing potential candidates.
- Posted byon April 18, 2012 at 2:36 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Neha Gupta, a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania who built a library for underprivileged youth. Neha is a national honoree for the Make A Difference Day awards. When asked about the impact of volunteering, Neha writes:
It’s a tradition in my family to celebrate birthdays by taking food and gifts to orphaned children in my family’s hometown in India. I have participated in this custom since I was young.
When I visited India in 2005, I was marked by the harsh conditions that orphans endure. Without a quality education and support system, orphans have little means with which to change their circumstances. Instead of just feeling empathy towards them, I decided to help break this cycle. I was nine years old when I started Empower Orphans, and these last seven years have taught me much about myself and the world. Together with fellow teen volunteers, we have raised more than $485,000 to purchase necessary items and services for orphans and underprivileged children.
Over time, I have learned that volunteering and service have exponential impact. Not only have I provided orphaned children the opportunity to help themselves, but I have led thousands of others to do the same. I have met countless people who share my interest in making a difference and together we have built an ever-growing community that empowers orphans. Through volunteering, my peers have changed their own lives, too. Volunteering has prepared me, not just for college, but for the life I hope to live afterwards.
- Posted byon April 17, 2012 at 2:45 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. Christopher Gergen, the Chief Executive Officer of Forward Ventures and a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, expresses the benefits of civic engagement for tomorrow’s leaders in a guest blog post below.
What do tomorrow’s leaders need to help serve our communities? It might be helpful to parse this into two questions. First, what leadership traits do we look for? Second, how can we actively engage tomorrow’s leaders as problem solvers in our community?
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, tomorrow’s leaders will need to have: strong self-awareness; an ability to collaborate across sectors with deep empathy for the communities they serve; critical thinking skills to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges; and the courage to take action even in the face of stark adversity, including the crushing pressure of the status quo. This “growth mindset” requires rolling up one’s sleeves, swallowing a dose of humility, and getting immersed in reality – and I’m not talking about TV.
So how do we best equip emerging leaders to understand and face today’s tough challenges ranging from persistent economic inequities to environmental degradation to significant educational achievement gaps? One critical strategy: volunteerism.
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