The 9-11 Generation
The CNCS hopes to expand the national cadre of volunteers by 10 million by the end of the decade to 75 million strong. Schools at the secondary and collegiate level that require community service contribute to this mix, along with employers like CVS, Best Buy, and Home Depot that provide staff members with free time to volunteer (they benefited from higher rates of retention and productivity as a result).
This uptick is a welcome response to research that suggests the opposite. Robert Putnam's seminal work, Bowling Alone (2000), uses his title to illustrate his central point. While more Americans are bowling than ever before, league membership is in a freefall, symptomatic of a decline in civic organizations and membership across the country. Such "horizontal association" between community members is vital to maintain a vertical relationship with our government, borrowing Putnam's terminology.
The National Conference on Citizenship produced a Sept. 2006 report titled Broken Engagement: America's Civic Health Index. It attempts to create a parallel index for civic engagement like the economic indicators used to evaluate our fiscal health. It includes measures of religious worship, social trust, staying informed, and participating in politics. Volunteering is also part of the mix. The overall indicator presents a precipitous decline over the last 30 years in line with Putnam's hypothesis, but there is evidence of a recent uptick amongst young people, often dubbed the "9-11 Generation." Volunteering is on the rise in this group and others according to CNCS report. Baby boomers and elderly individuals are also part of this mix.
Let's hope this uptick becomes a surge as we rebuild the social fabric of our democratic republic. Democracy means quite literally that the people govern, and minus civic engagement, this social contract is broken. Volunteering represents the height of associational relationships and an engaged populace, so my kudos to the 65 million Americans who give so selflessly. The remaining 235 million, myself included, have work to do. For some ideas, visit the "Get Involved" quadrant of our website and click on the "Do More" bubble.