THE BLOG

A New Age for Individual Service

01/09/2009 06:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Almost 50 years ago, President John Kennedy challenged Americans to ask what they can do for their country. The Baby Boom and Silent Generations answered that call to service, volunteering to build better lives for others at home and overseas through programs like VISTA and the Peace Corps.

Today, our country is grappling with uncertainty about the economy, the environment and global security. For the first time in history, older Americans believe they will leave the world in worse shape than they found it.

Fortunately, there are signs of hope that we are entering a new age of volunteerism, once again focusing the talents and commitment of individual Americans to address major problems at home and overseas.

Members of the Baby Boom and Silent Generations are increasingly postponing retirement to start public service-oriented careers -- combining a desire to do good with a need to do well. Tens of millions of boomers currently volunteer through their churches or organizations like Meals on Wheels, and more than half of all boomers plan to increase their volunteering in the next five years.

Younger Americans in the Millennial Generation, many of whom went to schools that required service to graduate, are better prepared for civic engagement than any other generation in our history. Just this month, more than 6,000 young women and men are beginning the school year as new educators with Teach for America. Others will don their work boots and khakis for a ten month tour with City Year.

Meanwhile, the constant stream of technological innovation offers new tools, most notably online, that help people of all ages maximize their impact. With just a few clicks, people can find volunteering opportunities in their neighborhood or around the world. Fast-growing social networks have the potential to rapidly mobilize and organize thousands of people, whether to vote or to clean up after a disaster.

So how do we take advantage of this momentum? How can we inspire more to serve, and how can we best harness their time and talents? That's a job for all of us.

AARP was founded with a service mission, and we have been mobilizing, training and engaging volunteers for the last fifty years. AARP volunteers have helped their neighbors and communities in a variety of ways -- from helping the disadvantaged fill out their tax returns to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

The New Look Foundation has been energizing and empowering our country's youth for almost a decade. Whether helping communities to rebuild after natural disasters or giving disadvantaged youth the opportunity to earn their way into New Look programs through volunteerism, the Foundation is building two of the most important assets in our nation's youth -- leadership, and the sense of empowerment that comes from knowing that their voices count.

But we have much more to do. Last week, both AARP and the New Look Foundation are joining the Carnegie Endowment, Target and TIME Magazine, as well as an impressive array of leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors to launch a new national call to action in New York City.

ServiceNation is a first-of-its-kind campaign to restore the tradition of American service through a national grassroots movement. The historic ServiceNation Summit represents the first time that major leaders from the full spectrum of American society put aside our partisan, ideological, and even generational differences to develop new opportunities and resources for volunteers. We are united in our belief in -- and passionate commitment to -- national service.

Problems that impact everyone require solutions that involve everyone -- from younger Americans who are just starting to shape the world, to boomers and older Americans who need to know it's not too late. Together, we can and will make a difference.