Volunteer service: Increasing local capacity now, shaping leaders for the future

Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the true measure, the only measure of our success.

– Marian Wright Edelman

As local governments, you understand the importance of public service. You ran for office to make your community better for current residents and for future generations. Shifting demographics are creating a unique opportunity for local governments to involve two generations – alternately, at the beginning and the end of their careers – in deeper civic engagement and public service. This opportunity comes as many cities and counties are still struggling to rebound from the recession with reduced resources and staff capacity.

Young Californians are the best-educated generation in the state’s history, impressively career-oriented and very optimistic about the future despite the state’s recent economic difficulties, according to a 2012 survey by California Forward.

Millennials, the youngest generation of workers aged 18 to 36, comprise about 24% of the U.S. population.

While the overall unemployment rate in California shrank last month from 8.9% a year ago to 7.4%, it is significantly higher among younger job seekers, according to California Employment Development Department statistics.

As many as 40% of the country’s unemployed workers are Millennials, according to an analysis of Census data released in July by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Millennials are graduating college at a time when the job market is relatively weak and the competition for jobs is steep. An independent-minded, diverse “digital generation” intricately linked and engaged by social networking, they are looking for ways to get meaningful, on-the-job experience that can open up career opportunities.

This passionate, energetic, environmental-attuned group could unlock a treasure trove of innovative ideas to improve communities.

At the same time, Baby Boomers are beginning to retire en masse, and many who’ve spent their career in the private sector are looking for ways to give back.

Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – make up more than one-quarter of the U.S. population. Nearly nine million of them live in California. According to analysis by the Stanford Center on Longevity, the number of Californians aged 65 and older will double over the next 20 years from 4.3 million in 2010 to 8.4 million in 2030.

Boomers represent a potential boost to the volunteer world, not only because of the sheer size of the generation but also because of their high levels of education, wealth and skills. Propelled largely by the Boomers, the number of volunteers aged 65 and older will increase 50% by 2020, when the first Boomers reach retirement age and should double by 2036, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Baby Boomers volunteer today at higher rates (31% among those aged 46 to 57) than past generations did at roughly the same age. Three-fifths of Baby Boomer volunteers who move out of the workforce continue to volunteer the following year; and the year-to-year retention rate for these volunteers who perform professional or management activities such as strategic planning, volunteer management and coordination, and marketing is the highest, at 75%.

Their decades of experience, paired with the youthful enthusiasm of the Millennials, represent one of the largest opportunities in untapped human capital.

Local governments can extend their capacity and provide service opportunities by participating in one of the many programs available. Here are a few that are particularly promising…

CivicSpark focuses on climate-change responses

The Local Government Commission is proud to announce the launch of CivicSpark – a Governor’s Initiative of AmeriCorps. Over the next three years, CivicSpark will provide high-quality, technical support to local and regional partners, helping California communities pursue clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard against climate change impacts, and implement sustainable community strategies.

To do this, CivicSpark will work with a network of nine regional partners to place 48 AmeriCorps members each year who will implement sustainable community strategies, respond to climate change and advance clean-energy initiatives throughout the state, where they will provide capacity-building support to local governments through research, planning and implementation activities. While working with local governments, they will also engage at least 200 volunteers annually to support ongoing climate protection activities in these communities.

CivicSpark members can conduct analysis and community inventorying that can lay the groundwork for competitive cap-and-trade funding applications that will have to show greenhouse gas emission benefits for proposed projects.

Sample projects include educating community members about climate change; benchmarking commercial building energy use; conducting electric vehicle readiness planning; and inventorying greenhouse gas emissions.

CivicSpark is currently reviewing applications for local projects and members for the 2014-15 service year. Approved projects are expected to launch in November and be completed by mid-September 2015. For more information about the process, contact Kif Scheuer at kscheuer@lgc.org.

Local governments will define a scope of service and contract with CivicSpark to implement this work at an estimated $18 per hour (e.g., 200-hour project = $3,600). Member benefits include living allowance, Segal Education Award, Federal Loan Forbearance for Approved Loans, health insurance and childcare.

Get more details about CivicSpark project opportunities.

Encore gives “second life” to expertise

The Local Government Commission is particularly excited about the role that Encore members will play as supervisors for the CivicSpark regional teams. Encore is a one-year service program for retired professionals.

Encore’s paid fellowships match skilled, experienced professionals with social-purpose organizations on high-impact projects.

Encore Fellows bring a wide variety of skills that can have a huge impact in your community. Projects typically include communications and public relations, information technology, staff development and coaching, financial management, business development, strategic planning and project management, and operations and performance management. Read more about Encore Fellows.

Encore Fellows receive a stipend to take on roles that bring significant, sustained impact to host organizations over a six-month period at half-time or 12 months for full-time assignments.

Learn how your community can create a work plan for an Encore Fellowships program.

Fuse Corps brings innovation

Fuse Corps provides opportunities for the country’s most entrepreneurial talent to spend a year working on high-impact projects focused on such areas as education, healthcare, technology and workforce development.

With partners that range from the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to the Presidio Trust in the Bay Area, Fuse Corps works with cities to create a 12-month project that will address key social or economic issues in the community; create efficiencies in local government to make it work better, faster and smarter; and enhance engagement and accountability with project stakeholders.

In Sacramento, a Fuse Corps fellow helped develop early implementation plans for the Greenwise initiative, which aims to pull the region out of its economic recession and simultaneously improve its environment by stimulating a sustainable green industry. Its goals for the next eight years include doubling the number of green jobs, reducing the region’s water usage by 20%, and certifying 10,000 “Greenwise Businesses.”

Meanwhile, the City of San Jose used Fuse Corps to help develop TalentBridge, which identifies and recruits pro-bono, private-sector resources to assist City employees in tackling timely projects to grow the local economy. And in San Francisco, working with tech companies to extend the benefits of its extensive fiber optic network to the community at large, San Francisco’s Gov 2.0 and OpenSF initiatives provide citizens with a wide and equitable array of usable open-source data that promotes transparency and accountability, improves the efficiency of public services, and fosters public engagement in government decision-making.

Learn more about Fuse Corps projects, apply to host a Fuse Corps fellow.

Code for America: Apps for solving problems

Each year, Code for America gathers a select group of the brightest developers, designers and product managers to work with local governments across the country, applying innovative problem-solving approaches while tackling local issues. During their service year, Fellows have partnered with cities to build apps addressing issues such as criminal justice, economic development and public health.

In Long Beach, a small percentage of the population disproportionately uses emergency services. In 2013, 52% of emergency medical calls came from only 10% of addresses. To reduce avoidable use of emergency resources and improve health outcomes, the Fellows are building tools to facilitate high-touch human interventions. By using meta-data to identify areas with a high concentration of calls to first responders, their app empowers the city to proactively direct intervention resources to where it will be most impactful.

Supported by such partners as Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Esri, Code for America has previously put its fellows to work on other California projects in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Mateo.

Learn more about Code for America projects.

Local governments can get more fellowship details Code for America’s government relations director at luke@codeforamerica.org.

EDF Climate Corps saves energy

At the Environmental Defense Fund, its Climate Corps recruits and trains top graduate students and embeds them in leading organizations to provide expert, hands-on support for energy-management initiatives that save money and improve environmental performance.

EDF Climate Corps fellows are trained to enhance the way businesses use energy by identifying scalable solutions with long-term financial and environmental benefits. Beyond financial returns, they benefit from EDF’s decades of sustainability expertise, and gain access to hundreds of top executives in its Climate Corps network.

Since 2008, more than 500 fellows have been placed with organizations and identified nearly $1.3 billion in energy savings. On average, fellows identify $1 million in energy savings for the organization they’re involved with, on projects that focus on a wide spectrum of initiatives including finance and energy modeling to analyze building systems for energy-efficient retrofitting and cost-saving opportunities; data analysis and tracking to better understand the organization’s energy usage; Employee engagement to empower workers to advance and sustain energy savings; energy-management strategies to improve performance through benchmarking, energy tracking, reporting and certifications; and opportunities for demand response, renewable and clean energy, utility incentives and procurement policies.

Read more about project case studies.

Fellows spend the summer on-site at an organization where they will work on specific energy projects over a 10- to 12-week period. Each fellow receives a weekly $1,250 stipend and $2,500 to cover travel costs and accommodations at the training and network event. In total, the cost to participate is $15,000.

Celebrating 20 Years of Service

Recently, the AmeriCorps national service program celebrated its 20-year anniversary with volunteers and alumni in Washington, DC. Since AmeriCorps was created through legislation signed by former President Bill Clinton, more than 900,000 people have volunteered and served more than 1.2 billion hours improving communities throughout the country.

AmeriCorps is “one of the most important things I ever had a role in, in public service,” Clinton told the gathered AmeriCorps volunteers.

At the celebration, President Barack Obama spoke about the importance of service in his early work as a community organizer in Chicago. “I would not be standing here if it were not for service to others, and the purpose that service gave my own life,” Obama said. “It made me whole. It gave me a center. It gave me a compass.”

On the other side of the country, the Local Government Commission participated in a celebration at the Presidio in San Francisco to celebrate AmeriCorps anniversary and the launch of our new CivicSpark AmeriCorps program.

Governor Jerry Brown swore in new California AmeriCorps members and encouraged them not to worry about the things they can’t change, but instead to take action and be engaged in the communities where they serve.

“There is a lot of things you can be worried about,” Brown said, citing political issues in Washington, European stagnation and global conflicts. “Where you can have an impact is right where you are.”