AP article from a couple days ago entitled “Sacrifice: An American Virtue on Rebound.” The whole story is worth a read, here’s some excerpts including an interview with Kelly Ward, the director of America Forward, and a history lesson on U.S. President’s calls to sacrifice from Washington to Bush.
What does sacrifice mean to Kelly Ward? Ask the 27-year-old Harvard graduate and she’ll first argue that she’s not personally familiar with the concept. Ward runs America Forward, an alliance of public service organizations dedicated to the principle that most of the nation’s problems are being solved somewhere — often by small, community-based nonprofit groups using innovative methods that government could support or copy.
“This isn’t a sacrifice because I believe in what I’m doing. I’ve found what I was created to do, which is to do my part to change the world,” Ward says while sipping coffee a few blocks from her Cambridge, Mass., office. “OK, I could make more money, sleep a lot more and have a personal life had I gone into a different line of work. But how’s this a sacrifice?”
Nearly every American president has urged citizens to serve the country and each other. George Washington stated in his farewell address, “You should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness.” In his famous “man in the arena” speech, Theodore Roosevelt said the conduct of every citizen matters to the health of the republic. Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Depression to give desperate men new jobs and eroded land new trees. John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps.
“On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country,” Kennedy said in 1961, “I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.”
And then there’s George W. Bush.
In his State of the Union address after the 2001 terrorist strikes, Bush challenged Americans to commit at least two years “to the service of your neighbors and your nation” and created one of the largest service initiatives since FDR’s CCC. But after the war with Iraq came, he went silent on service.
Which brings us back to Kelly Ward, the 27-year-old do-gooder, taking her Ivy League education and putting it to use battling the nation’s ills, even as she questions whether this represents any real sacrifice.
She is part of an uplifting cultural trend: Young, highly educated, highly motivated people are bringing their best-business practices to the world of national service — fighting bureaucracies, lobbying government and spending money like venture capitalists to address the nation’s most vexing problems. They call themselves social entrepreneurs, and you can find them in the most desperate corners of America.
In many ways, Ward and her peers are more like the Greatest Generation than their parents’ Baby Boom generation.
“This is the next reform generation,” says E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively about public service. “The metaphor I think about are the people who started out in service work in settlement houses before the turn of the last century.”
Settlement houses offered social services — food, shelter and schooling — for the urban poor and immigrants buffeted by the industrialization of America. Jane Addams was the founder of the settlement movement in America; she spoke of and to young and affluent Americans who yearned to make a difference, and find meaning in their lives.
“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious, is floating in midair, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life,” she wrote a century ago — speaking for her own generation and another in the distant future, one that hungers to pull together and help one another, to sacrifice and to serve.
The question is whether they’ll be forced to continue to do so on their own, or whether the next president will lead them.