09/10/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

Service: Unlocking Our Nation's Potential

Four years ago, on September 11, 2009, the President called upon all Americans " recapture the spirit of unity and compassion that inspired our nation following the attacks, and rededicate ourselves to sustained service to our communities."

This September 11th, on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famed "I Have a Dream" speech, I will stand on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall at City Year Los Angeles' Opening Day. There I will help inaugurate 283 inspirational young leaders who are dedicating not just a day -- but a year of full-time service to the students of our beloved city.

Nearly 200,000 people came together for the March on Washington, many of whom were young people who went on to become the backbone of the Civil Rights movement. The memory of that day is a reminder to all of us that we have a responsibility to serve our community, and that young people coming together around a common cause can be a remarkable step toward lasting change.

As a National Trustee and local Board Chair for City Year, an education-focused nonprofit fueled by national service, I have seen the power of service to address our nation's most pressing issues. In City Year's case, this has meant a targeted campaign against the dropout crisis. With more than one million students dropping out of school every year, education is the civil rights issue of our time. And like the social movements of our past, the solution is found in our citizens.

At City Year, we unite 17- to 24-year-olds for a year of full-time service in our highest need schools. Our young, energetic AmeriCorps members partner with public schools and teachers to help students get back on track, and stay on track, to graduation. They focus on improving Attendance, Behavior, and Course Performance - known as the "ABC's" of dropping out - because leading research shows that a student with poor performance in just one of these areas has less than a 25 percent chance of graduating high school.

City Year's plan to take young role models and place them in our cities' toughest schools is working. Last year in Los Angeles, 72 percent of middle school students tutored by City Year improved their academic performance in math, and 91 percent of teachers who work with City Year in Los Angeles believe that corps members help foster a positive learning environment. Over the past five years, City Year has doubled the number of corps members to 2,700 nationwide and has added five new sites. In Los Angeles our 283 corps members are serving in 22 elementary, middle and high schools, changing the lives of over 14,000 students.

More and more young people across the country are saying "yes" to service, and for those fortunate enough to serve, their work is paying off. However, there are not enough opportunities for most young people to turn their ideals into action. In 2011, AmeriCorps received 582,000 applications for only 80,000 positions, and the Peace Corps received 150,000 applications for 4,000 placements. Each year that we turn hundreds of thousands of young people away from service, we allow more kids to drop out of school, more families to go without shelter, and a host of other pressing needs to go unmet. Offering more opportunities for young people to serve would not only help solve some of our nation's toughest problems, but it would also provide a generation of young people the work experience and skills they need to help our country be competitive in our global economy.

September 11th reminds the nation that our fate as individuals is tied to that of our country, and City Year is just one example of how service can make a real and measurable impact. Our country is only as strong as those who care for it; only as compassionate as those who give back to it. I hope that one day all young people can serve to help America succeed.

Andrew Hauptman is Chairman of Andell, Inc. and the Board Chair of City Year Los Angeles.