By Alem Giorgis
The country recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and many universities commemorated the holiday by hosting community service projects in order to encourage students to engage in the needs of their local communities.
In its revealing series, “Great Divide,” the Global Post explains, “The distance between rich and poor is greater in America than nearly all other developed countries, making the U.S. a leader in a trend that economists warn has dire consequences.”
The U.S. is facing a multitude of problems impacting the education, healthcare, and legal systems.
Although many expect elected politicians to address societal needs and inequities, the reality is that both local and state govern- ments fall short in providing basic services to the most underserved communities in the country.
This shortcoming then begets the question as to whether individual citizens can do something to prevent the country from spiraling further into a divide where the most vulnerable and marginalized communities suffer.
Advocates of mandatory civilian service believe that volunteering is the key ingredient by which ordinary citizens can have a profound impact on our country in order to reverse this trend of inequity.
A growing number of notable politicians
and humanitarians have been praising pro- grams such as AmeriCorps because they place volunteers in extremely underserved areas that have little access to much-needed resources.
New York has even led the way towards the implementation of mandated civilian services because the benefits are clearly evidenced.
In order to practice law in N.Y., law students are now mandated to complete 50 hours of unpaid, pro-bono legal work.
If every state followed suit, and if ordinary citizens support new legislation that would mandate national civilian service, mil- lions of students and budding professionals alike would volunteer in various industries in underserved communities that desperately need access to resources.
This type of selfless, organized and long- term community service in itself could help combat enormous inequities in our country. Volunteers are capable of making a remarkable impact in our communities, and the very act of serving others changes the lives of volunteers because it teaches civic responsibility, teamwork, problem solving techniques, and selflessness. There are even monetary incentives for volunteers including monthly stipends, annual scholarships to support tuition costs and loan deferment.
As Dr. King explained, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
Because civilians are so interrelated, the collective commitment to public service can successfully reverse the devastating great divide and, thus, change the country, one volunteer at a time.