My generation has been referred to as many things. Some call us the "millenials," while others refer to us as "Generation Y." A quick Google search leads to over three million hits, from President Obama's call for a generation defined by science and technology, to simply the hip-hop mainstream music generation. Yet, with the diversity of interests that we see in youth today, none of these labels matches the drive that we have. So I propose a different one. Youth today are the service generation, a diverse group that is bound together by one common factor: service to communities. And this culture of service is ubiquitous. As a member of the generationOn National Youth Advisory Council, I've worked first-hand with an organization that is truly aiming to build a movement of volunteerism among students across the nation, and globally, so that they too can make their mark on the world.
My journey with generationOn started in our inaugural National Youth Advisory Council meeting in Washington D.C., where I became inspired by the role that youth play in organizations and the power and potential we have when we band together to address issues in our communities. I sat at the same table as Neil Bush and Brian Goldner, president of Hasbro, and learned about the time and energy that these CEOs take to involve youth in their work. Hearing from them gave me the sense that there is support for our generation to tackle issues through service. Our generation grants businesses and organizations access to a unique set of skills that no other age demographic has. At the moment, we want experience and opportunity to explore our interests in a practical setting, at the local and national level. Whether this means writing a book for educational reform or building a website to refer our generation to new opportunities, we want the chance to explore our passions and turn them into actions. Service lets us do just that, in service to ourselves, our communities, and the world.
After I learned about innovative projects being conducted by my peers and heard of the success of these leaders, I decided to take my own action in my community. I opened up a website, called OmahaCares.org, which helps connect students in Omaha to new opportunities in the area and nationally. The website is a network of several community partners in Omaha that present new volunteer opportunities, scholarships, and awards on both the local and national scale that are updated on the website, primarily through social networks. Our generation is known for its use of social networking, and hence has been an effective medium for conveying these new opportunities and calls for action.
Over the summer I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana as a representative of generationOn at the National Conference for Volunteering and Service, where I was impressed by the sheer number of people in the network of volunteers and the vitality of youth nationally. One of the features of the conference was a youth summit which focused on how New Orleans recovered from the damages that it had incurred due to the flooding and how the city had used youth and their experiences to translate its recovery efforts to Joplin, Missouri. Our generation has the ability to learn from its past success and then help make change happen in subsequent situations. The largest percentage of people at the recovery efforts were, in fact, our generation. The conference showed me the power of youth to mobilize around a disaster. This is perhaps spurred by the fact that our generation has the ability to easily connect with each other. Our ease at using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social networking tools makes it possible for us to easily disseminate information across our networks, and mobilize our peers into action, as was seen in the recovery in Joplin.
Finally, this fall, I traveled with generationOn to the World Youth Volunteering Summit in Barranquilla, Colombia, where I interacted with over 900 participants from six continents. There, I found that the same principles that guided my community of service in Omaha, Nebraska also bonded people in countries like Somalia, China, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Ghana, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, France, Russia, and Germany (just to name a few). Service is an international phenomenon. There, I presented a workshop on the importance of including social media in the work of non-profits and service initiatives to mobilize people to action, especially our generation. I was surprised by the enthusiasm expressed by youth from all over the world to learn from our experiences with social media and by the extent to which they already included it in their work. This conference showed me our generation's commitment to service was worldwide. Youth all over the world have the same vitality that we see in the United States, work with the same principles of service, and have the same desire to learn and impact their communities.
Our generation is defined by our ability to connect and our passion to make a difference, and both of these combine through action in service. There are differences across the nation, including racial, ethnic, and social divisions, but service is one thing that has no barriers. It excludes no one, and even has the ability to break down divisions that have formed. Our generation is proud of our diversity, and it is through service that we are able to unite to express our passions.
We truly are a generationOn.