Sagawa's 'American Way to Change' 'Doesn't Let Government Off The Hook'

09/28/2010 12:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Throughout our history, Americans have shown an extraordinary ability to use their energies, ideas, innovations and talents to tackle tough social problems. They have often brought government along as their partner to bring their effective local efforts to scale nationally. The little platoons of civil society, as they have been called, continue to be on the march and hold the promise of rescuing our country from its national funk.

Along comes a compelling book by Shirley Sagawa, a former senior White House advisor for President Clinton, the "godmother" of national service, and a Visiting Fellow at the Center on American Progress, that powerfully tells this remarkable story and shows how more national and community service can strengthen our nation. Sagawa's "The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers are Transforming America" doesn't let government off the hook, but instead argues that there are some roles that volunteers and participants in national service programs can play more effectively than professionals.

The stories and trends in her book make the case: older adults in the classroom are raising both the reading scores of disadvantaged students and the health and well-being of the seniors themselves; returning veterans wounded in combat are serving in civilian fellowships with non-profits and easing their own transitions home; and national and community service opportunities are scaling up to give millions of Americans over the coming decade opportunities to fix what's broken in America.

Our politics and even religion appear to be increasingly dividing us. Sagawa focuses on the spirit of service that can unite us -- and provides both inspiration and practical guidance to anyone who wants to serve their neighbor and nation. When I get discouraged about our national life, I enjoy reading books like Sagawa's. It not only can lift our spirits, but can put us to work in service to the country we love.