By Max Mays, AmeriCorps Member, Heinemann and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Supported Team,
Serving at Henry Wilson Elementary School  

Where will you be spending your service year? If you were to ask this question to a stranger walking past you on the street, you would likely be greeted with a look of confusion or a request for elaboration. However, within the City Year community, this question carries far more significance. It is, in many regards, the pinnacle of the idealistic vision of the City Year founders. If we lived in a country where this question was commonplace, this would mean that our society both places an emphasis on service and has the institutions established that would provide people with the opportunity to serve. Currently, the United States could use improvement in both of these areas. Because our nation ranks highly in volunteerism, service programs like City Year and Teach for America are inundated with applications. As a result, many young Americans are not afforded the potentially life changing experience of a service year. In order to combat this problem, and provide the United States with an increase in civic activism, many Americans have become proponents of a mandatory national service year. 

If implemented, how would a national service year change the United States?

Many political scientists and journalists who have explored the option agree that a successful program would be geared towards young Americans, specifically high school graduates. As part of the program, members could help to improve infrastructure, provide educational assistance, and offer support to local governments. These Americans would be given the opportunity to hone a trade, learn about professionalism, work as part of a team, and give back to the community. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.4 million Americans aged 16-24 are unemployed. With a national service program, this issue could be eradicated. Many supporters of a mandatory national service year have also contended that national unity could increase. If all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or ideology worked together to give to a cause greater than self, change would be inevitable. 

Of course, despite these opinions, detractors remain. These opposition groups have very legitimate concerns. Many argue that forcing young Americans to be employed in mandatory national service would be met with resistance. America was built on the ideals of free will and liberty, after all. Also, as is true with the creation of any new federal program, economic apprehensions remain. Regardless, given the stagnation that currently plagues the American political arena, a debate on the issue could be meaningful. Perhaps one day, everyone will have an answer for the question, “where will you be spending your service year?” 

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