Yesterday the Corporation for National Community Service and the Points of Light Foundation kicked off the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Community Service in New York City. More than 5,000 leaders of the business, nonprofit, government, and volunteer sector are on hand for the three-day event. This represents the largest gathering of service leaders in the world.
Points of Light Foundation CEO Michelle Nunn and I were honored to preside over the opening plenary at historic Radio City Music Hall. We were joined by White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a host of other dignitaries, community leaders, and volunteers from across the country. Our emcees for the event were Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show.
Over the course of the next two days, in workshops, plenary sessions and informal meetings, the conference will focus on ways the service movement can better target resources toward pressing social problems and measure impact; expand opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to serve; build the capacity of individuals, nonprofit organizations and communities to address social challenges; and embrace innovation.
This year’s conference comes at a moment of great need and opportunity in America. We face many challenges, whether addressing our country’s high-school dropout crisis or getting Americans back to work.
Yet in these tough times, the momentum for citizen service has never been stronger. Volunteering is up, social entrepreneurs are redefining service, and corporations are embracing social responsibility. Technology is providing new ways to connect, the federal investment in service is growing, and a new vision for service is taking effect. This vision recognizes that service is a solution; that it isn’t secondary or separate from achieving national priorities – it’s essential to achieving them.
In my opening remarks, I told the story of a young woman named Gina Parnell who now serves as an AmeriCorps member with Hope for the Homeless in Los Angeles. From the age of 12, Gina was addicted to drugs and in and out of prison. She was homeless for 23 years. AmeriCorps has helped turn her life around. She recently said, “AmeriCorps is a good place to start in service, because there is so much need for help. I think of it as a beautiful way of giving back, a way of making indirect amends to people I harmed and other damage I did in the area when I was homeless, and addicted.” Gina now has her own apartment, and will soon be attending Los Angeles City College. She’s on the path to economic self-sufficiency while she helps others do the same.
For stories like Gina’s to spread across our nation, we need to be willing to make difficult choices. We cannot be all things to all people. We need to identify those critical outcomes where service can make a big difference and focus relentlessly on results.
Today from 12:45 PM to 2:15 PM the Corporation for National and Community Service will hold its annual town hall meeting to give its service constituents a chance to participate in an open dialogue about the strategic direction of the Corporation and tht service movement. And tonight, from 7-9 PM, MTV is hosting a youth summit to highlight the extraordinary efforts of our nation’s youth service leaders and to encourage more young people to give back to their communities. Watch it live on www.mtv.com/serve.
For those who couldn’t be with us in person, but still want to join the action, you can participate from the comfort of your own home or office. Your gateway to the virtual conference is www.volunteeringandservice.org.
Patrick A. Corvington is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service