Many of us travel through airports this time of year to reunite with our families for the holidays. For me, this year’s family reunion at Cleveland-Hopkins International will resemble those of recent years and bring back my most significant airport moment: when my Dad came home from the first Gulf War in 1992.
It was late at Louisville International, as my dad’s plane was delayed. My mom, brother and I were with military friends who also had family deployed or were there for support. We waited for hours. And then, it happened. I remember the first sight of my dad in the airport. Once he saw us, he started running until we all embraced. Even though I was only a few years old, it’s a moment that will be ingrained in my mind forever.
As I got older, my dad’s military service made a big impression upon me. In college, I learned about public service opportunities, and chose to join Teach For America, an AmeriCorps program. Teaching middle school social studies in Arizona, my years of Model United Nations Club and red inking papers looked different than my dad’s of helicopters and operating rooms. Yet, many of the values driving us to this work, and developed throughout it, were similar: commitment, integrity, perseverance and a selfless desire to address our nation’s biggest needs.
My family is proud of our service tradition. As a Franklin Project Ambassador, I’m curious about enhancing the opportunities for service and building on the expertise of service members to further our country and world.
I now attend Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and I am honored to share the classroom with dozens of military and civilian service veterans. My interactions with them have demonstrated the experiences in leadership, teamwork and real-world problem solving that we developed during our various service commitments. These soft skills are in high demand in the business world, but they also represent the traits we’d hope to see in our children, neighbors and public servants.
Today, there are over 1 million brave Americans on active duty. Yet, in over 20 years of AmeriCorps, the total number of Americans who have served in a civilian capacity hasn’t reached this number. Imagine the possibilities for both local and global societies if there were more opportunities for civilian service. The chance to confront and solve challenges in health, education, security and the environment could be immense. Not only is there the potential for incredible impact during service year commitments, but also in the skillsets, mindsets and knowledge gained during this time period that service year members are then able to utilize across a lifetime.
The Franklin Project aims to unleash the ethos of service across the country. North Carolina, where I live, seems an ideal place to help lead the charge. The state is growing and recently became one of the 10 most populated, with demographically diverse communities. Rooted in a culture of service, North Carolina is home to bases for multiple branches of the armed service, as well as 1,400 AmeriCorps members. Additionally, we have the benefit of a dynamic youth population, attracted by rich employment and university experiences. With this nexus of potential, in North Carolina, we’re curious about creating and scaling impactful service year experiences, beneficial for both communities and service year members.
One exciting new development along these lines is the Service Year Exchange. This recently launched online platform connects individuals interested in service, organizations looking to fill service year positions and funders who can financially support these endeavors. An opportunity for innovation in national service, including at the local level, we’re excited about the possibilities this opens up to continue expanding service in North Carolina and beyond.
As we share the holidays with those closest to us, we often see images of service members who are far away from their loved ones or coming home to share this special time. In these moments, many of us feel deep gratitude for the sacrifices of others and their loved ones. I challenge us to consider how to convert these emotions into action, encouraging others to pursue a more active role in service. Consider making service a topic of conversation around your table, whether it be inspiring a young person to explore service opportunities, supporting those in service or conducting a quick search to learn more about how service, both civilian and military, is shaping your community. We can all be part of the service movement and contribute to making our country even stronger.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project in conjunction with Giving Tuesday. The series, which will run for the month of November, features pieces written by Franklin Project Ambassadors, local leaders who are working with community stakeholders in 25 states toward the Franklin Project’s vision of making a year of national service — a service year — a cultural expectation, common opportunity, and civic rite of passage for every young American. For more on service year opportunities and organizations, visit https://serviceyr.org.