As we wrap up the third annual AmeriCorps Week, I've had the chance to reflect on the importance of this program -- not only to the communities served but also to the individuals involved -- I know because I'm one of them. Yes, it's an unlikely path, but my career as a beverage entrepreneur actually has its roots in the national service movement. In 1993 I managed a "Summer of Service" demonstration program in Baltimore, which helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the Corporation for National Service. The experience instilled in me several lessons about service and about myself that continue to shape my work at Honest Tea. Among other things, I learned that:
* I work best when I'm passionate about the cause(s) I am serving
* I love creating and building a team of engaged and committed people who care about their work. Managing diversity in a team can make it more challenging, but that is often where the magic comes from.
* Mission-driven work is tough and requires patience and persistence
* The short-term rewards are not always apparent, but the opportunity to work for something you believe in is often a reward in itself.
I found my experience in Baltimore so rewarding that I came close to pursuing a career in non-profit national service. But in a late night decision, I opted to go to the Yale School of Management, and got connected to the world of socially responsible business, which I like to think of as national service in the private sector. And though our team doesn't do calisthenics every morning, there is certainly a spirit of service to the work we do.
* Some of our employees are on a mission to help change the American diet and replace sugary drinks with Honest beverages, which contain less than half the sugar of mainstream options.
* Some of our team members are passionate about our efforts to expand organic agriculture and help reduce the amount of toxins going into our ecosystem and our bodies.
* Others are fired up about spreading Fair Trade-certified goods which protect workers in the developing world.
It's true that some just want to make a lot of money, but that's fine with me because to the extent they are successful, they are helping the first three groups achieve their goals.
This is a confusing time in our economy. Many people entering the workforce are having trouble finding jobs. And if they can find work, it's hard to know just where those jobs will take them. In addition to addressing important needs in our society, national service offers the chance for participants to learn about themselves and their work in a way that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
It's hard to know what our society will look like in twenty years, but it's not hard to guess who will be leading it -- the generation of Americans coming of age now. The world will be better off if they bring their hearts and hands to their work today, and to the world tomorrow.