Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Helping Youth at Home and Abroad

    Neha Gupta and Members of Empowering Orphans volunteer

    Neha Gupta and members of Empowering Orphans volunteer on Make A Difference Day 2011.

    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.

  • The Benefits of Civic Engagement for Tomorrow's Leaders

    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.

  • Celebrating America's Greatest Asset: Our Volunteers

    Volunteers Rebuild After Hurricane Katrina

    Volunteers help build homes on the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo from the Corporation for National and Community Service)

    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 Wendy Spencer, the new Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    It’s an old saying and a profound truth that it is better to give than to receive. During National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, we celebrate the millions of Americans who volunteer and recognize the extraordinary benefits of service to individuals, communities, and our nation.

    America always has had a strong spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. Since our earliest days, citizens have given generously of themselves to improve the lives of others. Today, over 64 million volunteers serve annually, strengthening the nation’s safety net and providing hundreds of billions of dollars in vital services to our communities. They are doing hard but necessary work: tutoring and mentoring youth, assisting seniors who live independently, supporting veterans and military families, helping communities recover from disasters, and so much more.

    As a lifelong volunteer – and a dedicated volunteer coordinator - I know the power of citizens in action. In 2004 and 2005, after a series of storms hit my home state of Florida, we saw an extraordinary outpouring of compassion: more than 250,000 volunteers came to assist in the recovery effort. 

  • PG&E Partners with Fresno Community to Create Summer Jobs for Youth

    Employers nationwide are working with their communities to answer President Obama’s Summer Jobs+ call-to-action to provide pathways to employment for low-income and disconnected youth ages 16 – 24 this summer and beyond.

    In support of Summer Jobs+, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) will partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fresno County to provide summer employment opportunities for underserved youth from Central Fresno.  With a $200,000 investment from PG&E, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County will provide career exploration and job skills training to more than 150 young people ages 15-18. Fifty youth from the program will be invited to compete for summer jobs with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, local nonprofit organizations and local businesses.

    “A summer job can not only help ease the burden of back to school costs, it can help provide self-esteem, discipline, self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment that can last a lifetime,” said Diane Carbray, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County.

    This partnership comes at an unprecedented time for youth unemployment: the 2011 unemployment rate for young people ages 16-24 set a record low, and only 21 out of every 100 teens from low-income families had a job last summer.

    President Obama proposed $1.5 billion for high-impact summer jobs and year-round employment for low-income youth ages 16-24 as a part of the American Jobs Act, but Congress failed to act. That’s why the President launched Summer Jobs+ in January to challenge the public and private sectors to create youth employment opportunities beginning in summer 2012.

    “PG&E is proud to help Fresno’s young people find jobs in this challenging economic environment,” said Greg Pruett, a Fresno native and senior vice president who serves as chairman of the PG&E Corporation Foundation. “Assisting them will provide a valuable boost for the businesses that take part, benefiting the entire Fresno community. It’s just one more way PG&E is giving back to the communities we’ve been a part of for more than one hundred years.”

    By investing in the success of youth in the communities it serves, PG&E is building its pipeline for the next energy and utility workers. In this “all hands on deck” moment, partnerships like these are essential for connecting young people to successful careers and addressing our economic challenges.

    Marta Urquilla is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Domestic Policy Council Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • Gulf War Veteran Serves Again Through AmeriCorps

    Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is commemorating AmeriCorps Week to celebrate the remarkable individuals who have served and their contributions to our country. This blog post introduces readers to Todd Schnittke, a veteran who served from 1989-1993 and continues to serve through AmeriCorps. When asked about his AmeriCorps experience, Todd writes:

    After serving our country for four years during the Gulf War as a Multiple Launch Rocket System Technician, I decided to resume my education and get a college degree. I learned about AmeriCorps after entering North Central State College in Mansfield, OH, and I was immediately drawn to the program. Working as an AmeriCorps member at AMVETS Career Center Post #26 in Mansfield offered me the unique opportunity to serve others in my community—especially active duty personnel and veterans—while earning the money I needed to attend college.

    I am now in my second year as an AmeriCorps employment specialist at AMVETS.  The rate of unemployment for veterans in the State of Ohio is around 16 percent—higher than the national average. The AMVETS Career Center where I work is one of 61 locations that help veterans secure employment through free job training, resume workshops, mock interviews, and access to employment opportunities.

    Coming Home is Not Always Easy

    The transition from the military to a civilian lifestyle can be very challenging, and I strongly believe that all men and women who risk their lives for our country should have every opportunity for success at home.

  • Taking the Path from Prison to Service with AmeriCorps

    Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is commemorating AmeriCorps Week to celebrate the remarkable individuals who have served and their contributions to our country. This blog post introduces readers to Ely Flores, a former prison inmate who has transformed his own life through service, and in turn, has transformed the lives of others. When asked about his AmeriCorps experience, Ely writes:

    My story is common for a child raised in a single-parent household in an underresourced and disenfranchised community. My father abandoned my family when I was young and, in my neighborhood, young offenders were more often sent to prison than to rehabilitation programs. I grew up in south Hollywood and South Central Los Angeles. Lacking a steady home life, I took to the streets and found violence as the only way to face my daily problems. My gang lifestyle eventually led to incarceration. I was in and out of prison for four years, until I realized that staying out of the penal system for good meant making profound changes in my life.

    It is deeply important for youth who are in the challenging situation I once faced – being out of school and out of work – to know that there are organizations and individuals in every community that care about providing support needed to lead a life of success and integrity.  For me, this support came through two AmeriCorps programs: LA CAUSA YouthBuild and Public Allies.

    LA CAUSA YouthBuild came into my life at age 17 when I was still in prison and about to become a father. The people at YouthBuild introduced me to self-accountability as I struggled to experience a positive transformation. They didn’t define me according to past crimes, but rather, embraced me with acceptance and trust.