August 11, 2009

United We Serve: Become an agent of change

JD LasicaLike millions of Americans, I’ve been looking for ways in which to get more involved in worthy community efforts. The traditional ways in which you can volunteer and gave back at the community — say, working in a soup kitchen or signing up for AmeriCorps — just expanded exponentially with the recent rollout of the United We Serve initiaitive at Above is a video of some recent United We Serve activities, including a visit by players from the WNBA’s Detroit Shock to the White House.

Monday I was one of 75 people to join a United We Serve conference call featuring Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (who reports to Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to the President, and Christina M. Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Liaison); Yosi Sergant (@a35mmlife on Twitter), Director of Office of Communications, National Endowment for the Arts; Michael Skolnik (@michaelskolnik on Twitter), Political Director to Russell Simmons and Editor for the politics section of GlobalGrind; Nellie Abernathy, director of the outreach program for United We Serve; and Thomas Bates from Rock the Vote, among others.

The call’s goal was to enlist grassroots organizers to spread the word about United We Serve and highlight the role that the arts community plays in documentnig stories of how arts service can be fun, engaging and youthful.

United We Serve: What it is

United We Serve - Serve.govAs Yosi Sergant put it on the call: “What the hell is national service, and how do i get kids with fancy clothes and haircuts to pay attention to it?”

The first thing to know about United We Serve is that it’s an initiative in which people in nonprofits, community organizations and government agencies — at the local, state and federal level — join together to enable and facilitate greater community service. People can get involved in two ways: By posting a service project to the site and engaging others who may be interested in the same issue, or by signing up for a project. Your commitment level is up you, and it’s easier than ever to find a project that matches your interests through the easy-to-use tools on

We’ve already written about All for Good (a “Craigslist for service”), which lets you easily volunteer for community efforts. (See the widget in the sidebar at the right — enter your zip code to find matching volunteer opportunities in your area.)

United We Serve initially runs from June 22 through September 11, culminating in a National Day of Service and Remembrance on 9/11, but it will grow into a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to promote service as a way of life for all Americans.

Wicks said the idea is to persuade people that “I can be an agent of change in my community,” and to tap into existing civic engagement efforts by cities, nonprofits, community groups and federal agencies to “create sustained relationships we can all build on.”

Key areas of focus

The United We Serve team helped bring some focus to the countless volunteer opportunities by keying in on four main areas:

  • health care (in fact, this is health week)
  • energy and the environment (eg, weatherizing homes or League of Conservation Voters or the Sierra Club)
  • education (educators are concerned with “summer reading loss,” — the dramatically decreased reading ability of students when they return to school in a few weeks)
  • community renewal

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