[Congressional Record Volume 148, Number 112 (Monday, September 9, 2002)]
[Senate]
[Pages S8372-S8374]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                   THE CHALLENGE OF COMMUNITY SERVICE

 Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, we have learned much in the last 
year about how to measure the strength of America, a Nation built on 
the willingness of our citizens to give of their time and their energy, 
knowing that in the end our freedom and strength as individuals is 
connected to the freedom and strength of our Nation, and when one 
falters the other suffers in turn. Mothers and fathers have passed 
along to every successive generation pride in sacrifice and a 
commitment to our shared values that have become the touchstone of 
America's strength, grounded in the simple words of DeTocqueville: 
``America is great because Americans are good.''
  Arthur Blaustein's book on American volunteerism proves that the 
spirit of our forebears, that spirit that carried us through the 
tumultuous early days, a Civil War, a Depression, two World Wars, and 
the upheaval at home and overseas of the sixties, is alive and well 
today. From commitments to civil rights and civic bodies to military 
service and community volunteering, our Nation is a nation committed to 
strengthening and improving the world around us.
  And every time Americans have sought to strengthen our freedom and 
values, we have found individuals willing to volunteer their time and 
lead by their example, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, 
Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many more. And today, 
youngsters in middle school and high school have more opportunities 
than ever to volunteer in their local communities, in nursing homes, 
tutoring their peers, or helping protect our environment; and are doing 
so in increasing numbers.
  Arthur Blaustein, a long-time volunteer himself and an active force 
in American volunteer efforts, has written a book that appears at a 
crucial moment in our Nation's history, a moment when communal and 
civic engagement are more important then ever. His book honors the high 
ideals and values that are found in these organizations that have 
proven so successful in strengthening the ties of our communities and 
our country.
  His message is an important one: if America is to remain strong and 
committed to our values, civic and community engagement is a necessity. 
I applaud his proposals and hope many more, both young and old, will 
volunteer their time and energy to keep America strong.
  Part I, The Challenge of Community Service: The traditions of 
community service and citizen participation have been at the heart of 
American civic culture since before the nation was founded; whether 
through town hall meetings, the local school board, a political party, 
a hospital auxiliary, or one of our innumerable other national and 
local organizations, Americans have felt and acted on the need to give 
something back to their communities. Yet since the events of September 
11, this need has become more urgent, as Americans on the whole have 
become more introspective and more patriotic. This patriotism has taken 
many different forms, but one thing is clear: our concern for our 
country, our communities, our families, and our neighbors has become 
more acute, and our need to contribute more urgent.

  With firefighters, police officers, and rescue teams leading the way, 
ordinary citizens, ironworkers, teachers, public health clinicians, 
professionals, businesspeople, and schoolchildren, either volunteered 
to go to Ground Zero or offered their support from a distance. 
Everything from blankets to blood, peanut butter to poetry arrived

[[Page S8373]]

in New York City by the bale, the gallon, the barrel, and the ream. 
Americans didn't wait until January 1, 2002, to make resolutions; in 
mid-September, many resolved to be more caring and giving.
  Make a Difference is here to help harness this outpouring of 
compassion, energy, and patriotism in creative and useful ways. If 
you've decided to make a difference because of the events of September 
11, or if volunteering is one of those things you've been meaning to do 
all along but just haven't gotten around to, or if you're just curious 
about what's out there, this book can help you take the next step. It 
was designed to help you decide that you can make a contribution to the 
well-being of your community. It will help to answer the why, the how, 
the what, and the when. Why is community service important? How can you 
get in touch with a group that promotes the values and goals that you 
believe in? What specific volunteer activities match up with your 
skills and experiences? When is a good time to volunteer?
  Each of the organizations included in the book has been selected 
because of its commitment to educational, social, economic, 
environmental, and community development goals. Some have been in 
existence for many decades and others are fairly new. Most are national 
organizations and some are local prototypes; but all have a solid track 
record of delivering services that are useful and meaningful. Before 
you select an organization, ask yourself a few questions.
  How much time do you want to serve?
  What kind of service fits your personality?
  What neighborhood and community do you want to work in?
  Which target population do you want to work with?
  What skills do you have to offer?
  What would you like to gain from the experience?
  If, for example, you're over 17 can commit a full year, and would 
like leadership training, some income, and a stipend, you should 
seriously consider AmeriCorps. If you want to commit a year and you're 
over 18 and want to work on environmental, art, or music projects, or 
in community development, you should think about Volunteers in Service 
to America (VISTA). If you only have a weekend or one day a week, you 
like working with your hands, and you want to be outdoors, Habitat for 
Humanity will probably be perfect. If you only have a few hours a 
week and enjoy children, consider mentoring or tutoring with an 
educational group. It might take some reflection and research, but 
there is a fulfilling opportunity for everyone.

  Historically, our greatest strength as a nation has been to be there 
for one another. Citizen participation is the lifeblood of democracy. 
As Thomas Paine put it, ``The highest calling of every individual in a 
democratic society is that of citizen!'' Accidents of nature and 
abstract notions of improvement do not make our communities better or 
healthier places in which to live and work. They get better because 
people like you decide that they want to make a difference.
  Volunteering is not a conservative or liberal, Democratic or 
Republican issue; caring and compassion simply help to define us as 
being human, Unfortunately, opportunistic radio talk-show hosts and 
reactionary politicians have spread two false myths about community 
service. The first is the notion that only inner-city minorities 
benefit from volunteer efforts. Here's a story about that myth, told to 
me by a friend who was in VISTA. He was helping local groups organize 
fuel cooperatives many years ago, in small towns in Maine. That winter 
was unusually cold and the price of home heating had skyrocketed, 
placing an enormous financial burden on most families in the state, 
which had a low per-capita income. He was invited to make a 
presentation to about two hundred residents in their town's church. 
After the talk, one of the ``happy guy'' television reporters from 
Portland baited a farmer, asking, ``What do you think of this outside 
agitation?''
  The farmer, who was about seventy-five, paused for a moment; and, 
with an edge of flint in his voice, he said, ``You know, I'm a fourth-
generation Republican Yankee, just like my father, my grandfather, and 
my great-grandfather, but if I've learned anything, it's that there are 
two kinds of politics and economics in America. The first kind is what 
I see on television and what politicians tell me when they want my 
vote. The other kind is what me and my friends talk about over 
doughnuts and coffee. And that's what this young fellow was talking 
about tonight, and he made a lot of sense to me. I'm joining the co-
op.''
  Over 65 percent of America's poor are, like this farmer, white, and 
white families with children are the fastest growing homeless 
population. The myth that social programs only serve inner-city 
minorities stigmatizes volunteer social programs, which are, in fact, 
color-blind.
  The second myth is that the vast majority of individuals who 
volunteer for community service are naive, idealistic do-gooders. 
Here's a story about that myth. It happened to me in a bookstore in 
Northern California. Six years ago, I was a technical advisor to the 
producers of a public television series called ``The New War on 
Poverty.'' There was a companion book to the series, and since I had 
been one of the contributing editors, the publisher asked me to give 
readings. This particular evening, I showed film clips from the series 
and spoke about the importance of several War on Poverty programs, 
including Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, Legal Services, and Upward 
Bound.
  While I was signing books after the reading, a woman in her mid-
twenties who looked like a quintessential California valley girl, blond 
hair, blue eyes, approached me with tears in her eyes. I asked if I had 
said anything that offended her. She replied that I had not and told me 
she was nonpolitical, conservative, and in her last year of law school. 
She had been a political science major at college but knew nothing 
about the history of the War on Poverty. She said she was 
ashamed because, despite having benefited from two of the programs I 
had spoken about, Head Start and Upward Bound, she had never before 
felt a responsibility to give back to her community, and to assure that 
these programs would be continued so that others could have the same 
opportunities she had.

  Like this woman, the vast majority of volunteers I've worked with are 
not idealistic, but are serious realists. They are only too aware that 
as a nation we cannot squander our human and natural resources.
  Community service not only exposes the sterility of this kind of 
idealism-versus-realism debate, but helps individuals to integrate 
their own idealism and realism. An idealist without a healthy dose of 
realism tends to become a naive romantic. A realist without ideals 
tends to become a cynic. Community service helps you put your ideals to 
work in a realistic setting. It creates a dynamic tension that gives 
you a coherent and comprehensive approach to complex problems. I've 
seen it happen time and again with my students, and with VISTA and 
AmeriCorps volunteers. Dr. Margaret Mead, one of my teachers in 
graduate school at Columbia, wrote that a truly healthy person is a 
thinking, feeling, acting person. That's what serving helps us to 
achieve.
  The talk-show hosts and politicians who push these myths are 
scapegoating and attacking the most vulnerable segments of our society. 
They are adept at moralizing over the problems of the homeless and the 
hungry, the unemployed and the underemployed, drug users and the 
mentality ill, and over such issues as infant mortality, child and 
spousal abuse, and disrupted families. But they have neither the heart 
nor the will for rigorous thought and the work of finding cures, nor 
even relieving some of the suffering or symptoms. Just as military 
service and patriotism should not be politicized, neither should 
community service.
  Nearly 40 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy launched the 
Peace Corps, he made this oft-quoted suggestion: ``Ask not what your 
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.'' After 
30 years of firsthand experience with hundreds of volunteers, I would 
make a follow-up suggestion: ``Ask not what you can do for your 
community and the people you serve, but what they can do for you.'' 
Community service is very much a two-way street. It is about giving and 
receiving, and the receiving can be

[[Page S8374]]

nourishing for the heart and mind. The very act of serving taps into a 
wellspring of empathy and generosity that is both personally gratifying 
and energizing. Again and again, former volunteers described their 
experiences with words like these: adventure, growth, human connection, 
exciting, spiritual, learning, and enjoyable.
  I saw this in action 3 years ago when I decided to give the students 
in each of my classes, mostly university seniors, the choice between a 
mid-semester exam or sixteen hours of community service. The students 
unanimously chose service--though most of them didn't know what was in 
store for them. They had a choice of about ten different activities 
organized by the Public Service Center at the University of California, 
Berkeley.
  Here's what one student wrote about this experience: ``Before I 
started volunteering, I had very different expectations about the 
[after-school] program. I thought it would be very sports-oriented with 
little academic emphasis. Luckily, my expectations proved false. The 
program for fourth and fifth-grader at the Thousand Oaks/Franklin 
Elementary School, has a set schedule for each grade. The students 
rotate between free play, sports, library study time, circle time, and 
arts and crafts.

       It was in the library that I saw how truly behind these 
     children are in mathematics, reading, and grammar. In 
     addition, I never expected to see the immense poverty that 
     these children experience or to be so emotionally affected by 
     it. Last week, I learned that one of my favorite children is 
     homeless. It seems so silly to be reprimanding him for not 
     doing his homework and not putting out the effort at school. 
     This seems so trivial compared to the real-life horrors that 
     he must experience. Although I had my expectations, never did 
     I anticipate the emotional attachment that I now share with 
     these children. I find myself yearning to become a teacher, 
     which was a career I never thought about before this program. 
     I know that as these children grow, they will probably forget 
     about me; but I know I will never forget them. I have truly 
     changed and matured as a result of them.

  A second student wrote:

       Before I started tutoring I was really scared, because I 
     didn't know what tutors did in junior high schools. I was 
     afraid of not being able to explain things so that the kids 
     could understand. I thought I might also lose patience 
     quickly with kids who were slower in understanding and for 
     whom I would have to repeatedly state the same thing. I was 
     concerned that the kids would resent me or not respect me 
     because I wasn't the teacher and was closer to their age. And 
     finally, I thought they wouldn't like me; the first day I 
     even had trouble introducing myself because of this initial 
     uncertainty.
       Contrary to these preliminary fears, however, tutoring at 
     Willard has been a life-changing experience for me. I've 
     found that I have more patience working with kids than I've 
     ever had in any other area of my life. I work hard to come up 
     with lots of examples when the kids I'm working with don't 
     understand. We relate well to one another because I'm close 
     to their age, yet they respect me because I go to Cal and 
     they know that I'm there to help them. It's been the joy of 
     my semester to work with these students, who I really 
     appreciate.

  These comments were typical of the experience of nearly all 80 
students. Their testimony is consistent with the more formal academic 
research and evaluations, which tell us that service-learning clearly 
enriches and enhances the individual volunteer in multiple ways. And 
the same things happened to me during my own community service 35 years 
ago, when I taught in Harlem during the early years of the War on 
Poverty and VISTA.
  My students now, and I back then, confronted the complexities of the 
everyday worlds of individuals and communities quite different from our 
own. We are forced to deal with difficult social and economic 
realities. It was an eye-opener to learn about the inequities and 
injustices of our society, to see firsthand the painful struggles of 
children who did not have the educational, social, or economic 
opportunities that we took for granted. This experience was humbling 
and it broke down my insularity, for which I'm truly grateful. Again, 
it was Dr. Margaret Mead who called this ``heart-learning.''
  Community service also taught me an important lesson about our 
society: ethical values and healthy communities are not inherited. They 
are either recreated through action by each generation, or they are 
not. That is what makes AmeriCorps, VISTA, and other forms of community 
service unique and valuable. They help us to regenerate our best values 
and principles as individuals and as a society. From Plato to the 
present, civic virtue has been at the core of civilized behavior. My 
experience as a teacher and with service-learning has taught me that 
moral and ethical values cannot survive from one generation to the next 
if the only preservatives are texts or research studies. Real-life 
experience is the crucible for shaping values. Out of it develop an 
intuition and a living memory that are the seeds of a humane and just 
society.

  The task of passing along to the young our best civic traditions is 
made more difficult by the steady shift of emphasis away from 
qualitative values civility, cooperation, and the public interest, to 
quantitative ones, competition, making it, and privatism, as well as 
the demoralizing pursuit of mindless consumerism and trivia force-fed 
us by the mass media. Just about every parent and teacher I know has, 
in one way or another, expressed the concern that they cannot compete 
with the marketing techniques of the mass media, particularly 
television. They are worried about the potential consequences of the 
growing acquisitiveness, the indulgence, and the self-centeredness of 
children. You hear this from conservatives, liberals, and moderates. 
Small wonder. The average eighteen-year-old in the United States has 
seen more than 380,000 television commercials. We haven't begun to 
comprehend the inherent brutality of this media saturation on our 
children's psyches.
  Materialism and assumptions of entitlement breed boredom, cynicism, 
drug abuse, and crime for kicks. Passivity, isolation, and depression 
come with television and on-line addiction. Ignorance, fear, and 
prejudice come from insularity and exclusivity. A national and local 
effort to promote community service by young people is the best 
antidote to these social ills. The goals are inclusive and nourishing; 
they seek to honor diversity, to protect the environment, and to enrich 
our Nation's educational, social, and economic policies so that they 
enhance human dignity. On a personal level, volunteering, the very act 
of caring and doing, makes a substantial difference in our individual 
lives because it nourishes the moral intelligence required for critical 
judgment and mature behavior.
  Dr. Seuss reminded us in The Lorax that ``unless someone like you 
cares a whole awful lot nothing is going to get better. It's not.'' 
September 11, 2001, as tragic and traumatic as it was, can serve as a 
transformative event for the American people. We responded to this 
crisis with introspection, generosity, and caring. Now is not the time 
to push the snooze button and return to civic fatuity and complacency. 
Just as we marshaled our forces and mobilized our capacities to 
confront a foreign enemy, we can take action and confront our domestic 
problems and conflicts on the home front. In the real world, we know 
that taking ordinary initiatives can make a difference. It is within 
our power to move beyond a disaster and to create new opportunities. 
What it comes down to is assuming personal responsibility. If we decide 
to become involved in voluntary efforts, we can restore idealism, 
realism, responsiveness, and vitality to our institutions and our 
communities.
  At her memorial service, it was said of Eleanor Roosevelt, the most 
influential American woman of the twentieth century, ``she would rather 
light a candle then curse the darkness.'' What was true for her then is 
true for us now. The choice to make a difference is ours.

                          ____________________