With his signature public service program for young adults on the verge of passing in the Maryland General Assembly, Gov. Wes Moore on Monday announced a cabinet member to help build out the service year effort and other initiatives under the umbrella of a new state agency.
If confirmed by the state Senate, Paul Monteiro — a former AmeriCorps program leader who now directs community relations efforts for the U.S. Department of Justice — would be the first secretary of the Department of Service and Civic Innovation.
Moore created the department by executive order on his first full day in office in January after making public service a hallmark of his campaign.
He has said the department will consolidate various state-run public service initiatives already existing. It will also be the home of a new program that, if fully realized, would allow any recent high school graduate in the state to participate in a year of paid public service before entering the workforce or continuing their education.
Participants in the service program would earn a $15 hourly wage and a $6,000 stipend if they complete at least nine months of service for a nonprofit organization, local government or for-profit business.
It would start with 200 participants later this year and then grow to up to 2,000 in the fourth year, though some believe the demand could eventually be far higher in a state with roughly 60,000 annual high school graduates.
Monteiro and the agency will be tasked with promoting the program, recruiting participants and connecting them with employers beginning this year.
The agency will also be required to lift up a similar service year program known as Maryland Corps that lawmakers passed in recent years but that has not fully launched. In the version of Moore’s SERVE Act that lawmakers amended and are expected to pass this week, the programs will be known as the “young adult service year option pathway” and the “Maryland service year option pathway.”
The new department will similarly coordinate Maryland’s participation in AmeriCorps and other volunteer efforts.
“Paul will be a model for the young people who raise their hands and participate in Maryland’s first-in-the-nation service year program,” Moore said at a news conference announcing Monteiro’s nomination.
Moore also referenced the late Marylander, Sargent Shriver, who he quoted from a 25th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps as saying, “Serve your families. Serve the poor. Join others who serve ... For in the end, it will be servants who save us all.” Shriver, who was the founding director of the Peace Corps, died in 2011.
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Attending the announcement were his son and his niece, Robert Sargent Shriver III and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, two members of the Kennedy family who have led service efforts.
Monteiro said his dedication to public service begins with the story of his grandparents meeting while serving in the Peace Corps in Micronesia and continues through his experience with teachers who inspired him while he attended public schools in Prince George’s County.
The University of Maryland and Howard University School of Law graduate later became a school board member in Prince George’s. He’s also worked as the national director for AmeriCorps VISTA, part of the national service program that works to fight poverty. His role at the U.S. Department of Justice involves working with community groups to resolve conflicts and prevent hate crimes, Moore said.
“Maryland has invested in me in countless ways, so I made it my goal to give back through public service,” Monteiro said Monday.
As a cabinet-level official, he will need Senate approval to serve in the role beyond an acting capacity. Although lawmakers have less than a week before their annual 90-day legislative session ends Monday, Moore said he’s hopeful Monteiro’s nomination is expedited and approved before lawmakers adjourn.
Moore has nominated about two dozen other cabinet officials since taking office. All but two received unanimous approval.
Republicans voted against Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi after expressing concerns that he wasn’t sufficiently focused on accountability. And last week, four Democratic senators voted against Maryland State Police Superintendent Roland Butler because of concerns that he might not be the right fit to reform the embattled police agency.