The “secret sauce” of national service is in its ability to prepare and inspire young people to step up and address the many challenges we face. From climate change and food and water scarcity around the globe, to an opioid crisis and homelessness here at home, programs like AmeriCorps, YouthBuild, and Peace Corps give young people across the country an entryway to being part of the solution.
Here’s one big challenge well-suited for service year support. With an aging population in the United States, we need a new generation of leaders ready to provide services for the elderly. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2035, people older than 65 will outnumber those under 18. There is a desperate shortage of professionals able to provide care: by 2030, we’ll need an estimated 3.5 million more healthcare professionals, yet only 4% of social workers, 2% of nurses, and less than 1% of physicians are specializing in geriatrics care -- far below below the predicted need.
For a solution, look to the critical role national service played in building a new generation of leaders in the field of education. From national service year programs like Reading Partners, Teach For America, and City Year, to hundreds of local service year programs in communities across the country, the call to national service has driven tens of thousands of young leaders to pursue careers in education. Wendy Kopp deliberately framed Teach For America as a national service corps to attract students from the country’s best universities to positions in its most under-resourced schools. Today, the AmeriCorps program administered through the Corporation for National and Community Service is the single largest grantmaker to nonprofits working in education.=
This same TFA-style model that has transformed the pipeline into education careers can be replicated to address the challenges facing the country’s aging populations — and there are already examples of this idea in action.
Nihal Satyadev, the CEO of The Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s, founded the organization while still in college and currently leads efforts in California to establish a statewide Care Corps. The California State Assembly recently proposed legislation that would create a pilot program placing 200 service year corps members each year in eldercare positions. And Champions of Aging, a new service year program created by Home Instead, allows young people to spend a year serving with different agencies and organizations that support aging populations. Corps members get training by completing an in-depth curriculum and first-hand experience to help them build a deep understanding of the challenges of aging and to empower them to continue their careers as part of the solution.
Service Year Alliance urges policymakers to look to national service as a solution that will benefit the aging community while also being a long-term investment in the next generation of social leaders. Legislators in California should include the Care Corps in the state budget. And local and state elected officials should consider how they can implement similar national service models to tackle the issues facing their local communities.