August 11, 2009

United We Serve: Become an agent of change

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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

Some impressions

• Mid-August is probably the toughest time of the year to ramp up an effort like this, but the administration should be cut some slack given the time it takes to get a national effort underway. The goal, as Wicks said, is to create “an onramp to long-term service.”

• United We Serve should be doing more with its social media efforts — by now they should have tens of thousands of followers on both Twitter and Facebook.

ServeDotGov has 353 followers and is following 19 on Twitter. For an effort such as this, I recommend that ServeDotGov follow everyone back. There are now easy-to-use tools to track the tweets of a subset of Twitter users.

• The United We Serve group on Facebook (only 32 members); United We Serve Causecast group on Facebook (95 members)

• United We Serve shouldn’t be shy about piggybacking on and spotlighting existing hashtags for social causes. In fact, a directory of social cause hashtags would be a great idea. Who wants to create it?

• Great idea: MyImpact. “Tell the stories of the projects that you find on @ServeDotGov on the United We Serve online community.”

• More goodness: The United We Serve toolkit for education, health, community renewal, energy & environment, safety & security and do-it-yourself toolkits.

• Other urls and Twitter members worth following: United We Serve Military Retreats for free retreats for U.S. military personnel and their families. United We Serve fact sheet (PDF). @nationalservice is the Twitter presence of the Corporation for National and Community Service. ReadingIsFundamental (RIF website and @RIFWEB on Twitter) and its Readforchange program (#readwithkids hashtag) highlighting RIF’s United We Serve White initiative. Right To Play is the leading international humanitarian and development organization using sport and play as tools to effect behavior and social change. And don’t be shy about using the #unitedweserve hashtag.

Finally, here is Michelle Obama introducing the United We Serve initiative a few weeks ago: “With the knowledge that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when given the proper tools, this initiative aims to expand the impact of exisitng organizations and encourage people like you and me to develop our own do-it-yourself service projects.”

JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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4 thoughts on “United We Serve: Become an agent of change

  1. Great post, JD! I work in this space (check out @serviceresource on Twitter) and I didn't even know about the servedotgov Twitter account! I will definitely help to promote them. Social media is still pretty new to the Corporation for National and Community Service, but they are learning fast and appreciate all the help they can get.

  2. Laura, I had a phone conversation today with a top official of United We Serve. They're looking for answers on how to get the word out through social media conversations. More on that soon. (BTW, we've been following @serviceresource for a while, nice work!)

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