Learning to Serve

by Jeff Camp | January 29, 2023 | 1 Comment
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Learning to serve and serving to learn

Not everything of value has a price. This is a recurring theme of the Ed100 course, because the education system depends massively on people who commit their time and talent for reasons that aren’t simply driven by money. From classrooms to after school programs, from PTA meetings to school board service, the education system depends on volunteers.

The importance of volunteer experiences was a key topic at the conference of the Ed100 Academy for Student Leaders. Students were inspired by the state’s Chief Service Officer, Josh Fryday, in conversation with Alvin Lee, the student host of the program.

Click the video below to watch the full interview:

California has a chronically low rate of volunteerism

Fryday’s office is an important experiment. Historically, California has not been particularly known for generosity. The state consistently ranks among America’s least generous states. In 2021, for example, surveys found that less than half of Californians said they had donated $25. And some of that probably the form of lottery ticket purchases.

Because time is valuable, the US Census Bureau has measured volunteerism rates for decades. The 2021 survey found that just a quarter of Californians volunteered at all. Overall, California’s rate of volunteerism ranked 46th among the states, little changed from the 2019 survey findings summarized in this map:

How to increase volunteer rates

To boost volunteerism in California, Governor Newsom took the novel approach of establishing the position of Chief Service Officer as a cabinet-level office, supported by a commission of volunteers. He appointed Josh Fryday to the new role, charged with developing and promoting programs and projects that can bring people into action.

“We're creating programs and opportunities for literally every Californian to get involved,” said Fryday at the Ed100 Academy conference. “That obviously includes high school students, which are critical for helping us solve some of our biggest issues.”

Student volunteers played important roles in response to the COVID pandemic. Fryday specifically noted student service in food banks. “...Food banks had lost all their volunteers. As many of us know, food insecurity has skyrocketed as we're dealing with increased poverty and inequality. High school students have really stepped up.”

Many college students are motivated to volunteer, but it is difficult to balance volunteer experiences with the need to pay rent. Fryday highlighted service programs designed to reduce that barrier: “If you’re willing to serve, we’re willing to help you pay for college. Students who commit to a year of service while they’re in school get $10,000 toward their education. We’re really trying to create debt-free pathways for students who are willing to serve your community.”

Together do more

Some of Fryday’s comments highlighted the importance of volunteering together. “As individuals we can't solve all the problems, but if we work together — if you work with others in a community — you actually can make a big difference.”

It has never been easier for students to find opportunities to be of service along with others. As an example, Fryday described two students who had volunteered as tutors. “They decided to become tutors in low-income schools in their community. They spent individual time with students who needed the most help and they've now decided to become teachers in their careers. Tutoring them is transforming their lives — that's just a demonstration of the power of service. It not just helps the individuals that are being touched by the service and the individuals that are doing the service but it also helps all of society. Two incredible future teachers are going to be in our classrooms. It’s a really cool example of how service is a win for everybody.”

The Pandemic interrupted existing programs and patterns of giving, but it also prompted some people to give in new ways.

“The Governor's hope is that by promoting service and getting more people involved and engaged in the community we can start to build connected communities again. Where people are compassionate towards each other … We're actually very optimistic coming out of Covid that people are thirsty for this connection. They're hungry to make change and do it together in a positive way.”

“We're trying to create avenues for service — through College Corps, through Climate Corps, through Californians For All. The other thing we've also learned is service needs to be accessible to everyone. That's why the College Corps program is helping create debt-free pathways. In our Climate Corps program you can get a stipend and you can get a scholarship for college — we had high school students doing that program last year during the summer.”

Follow your convictions

It can be difficult for students to believe that they can make a difference. Alvin asked Josh for his advice.

Throughout history, social change has been led by young people.

“What I would say on behalf of the Governor is this: we need you. My advice is: get in the game. Jump in. Get involved however you can! It's literally how change happens. You can have an impact on the climate crisis we're facing. You can have an impact on inequality in our state and in our country by volunteering. So pick whatever issue you're passionate about and follow that passion.”

“If you look at social change in our country, throughout history it's been led by young people. Pick your issue: Environmental movements, gun rights movements, civil rights movements… It's led by young people who were passionate and wanted to see change and decided to do something about it."

“Be courageous. This is your time to push yourself. Get uncomfortable. Go somewhere where you feel uncomfortable or don't speak the language or don't don't necessarily identify with the people around you. This is the time to speak, so follow your convictions and do it with courage.”

Questions & Comments

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user avatar
francisco molina February 5, 2023 at 9:43 am
Jeff, I have a question, where is it possible to find a graphic showing both rankings volunterism vs. economy? Because I know poor states with more volunteers.
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder February 5, 2023 at 11:21 am
I don't know of an excellent graphic that directly addresses this question. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has done good analysis of Census Bureau surveys, but generally not based on state boundaries. Read Volunteering in the United States. Generally, income is correlated with volunteering. That is, people who volunteer tend to have more income than those who don't. It appears to me that state volunteerism patterns tend to reflect income patterns.
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