From earliest frontier times, Americans have put great stock in helping one's neighbor. Now, with the recent award of just under $3 million in federal grants to support local community service programs, Maryland has moved to the forefront of efforts to encourage the volunteer spirit.
The money is part of some $70 million in awards disbursed nationally this year by the Commission on National and Community Service, the federal agency charged with turning President Bush's 1988 call for a surge of volunteerism that would be like a "thousand points of light" into practical reality. At the heart of the volunteerist philosophy lies the belief that every individual has the capacity to contribute to the common good and that the benefits of such altruism accrue to those who are helped and those who help alike.
This year, the Maryland Conservation and Youth Service Corps, which gives 600 disadvantaged youths summer jobs helping clean up the environment, will receive $1.1 million to conduct programs year 'round. Part of the money will be used to train volunteers as park rangers, emergency response workers and preservationists on projects involving historic buildings on state property.
The state will also receive $1.3 million to train 200 "service leaders," whose job will be to recruit 10,000 volunteers across the state to work with local community and neighborhood service organizations. Another $526,000 grant will go to local school systems to encourage the volunteer spirit among students, who get extra school credits for participating in community service programs.
Maryland is one of only two states to receive awards in three different categories of grants. Much credit for that success is due to the indefatigable efforts of advocates like Maryland Student Service Alliance director Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose work with public-private partnerships over the last three years led to the commission to designate Maryland a "leader state" in developing volunteer service programs. The awards will enable local officials to greatly expand volunteer activities across the state -- and make the old biblical injunction to help thy neighbor a cornerstone of public policy.