Monday, January 12, 2009

The limits and the possibilities of community service

For the past 15 years we've struggled on almost a daily basis with the notion of "community service" and its place in community development and the pursuit of a more just, equitable society.

Often service opportunities flow in just one direction: from communities of material wealth to communities of material scarcity. Most service options at the local level provide the greatest actual benefit to those performing the service, rather than to those receiving it.

Early on we recognized the enormous value of inviting low-income neighbors into the mix of community service and activism. Lots of debates, even arguments, resulted from our rather unorthodox, at least for Dallas, decision to invite the poor into the process of community service.

Nothing has been more important to our growth and maturation as an organization than this single decision. [For more background, type "Josefina Ortiz" into the blog search tool.]

Now comes encouraging news about the proposed Serve America Act that will come before the new Congress in the near future. For a helpful summary of the bill's contents and an outline of its goals, read more here. Co-sponsors of this legislation include Senators Hatch, Kennedy, Cochran, Clinton and, then Senator Obama. The bi-partisan legislation would place an additional 175,000 community folks into positions of service and community improvement across the nation. Much like AmeriCorps, this additional national service force would include folks from low-income communities.

I would urge your support of this legislation. Write your Senators and your member of Congress today to express that support.

Involving low-income communities in national renewal at a large scale will affect much needed change in our inner cities. I know this from my experience here in Dallas inside my own shop.


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