Team Leader Mackenzie of Maple 4 plants onion sets in the urban garden of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf

By Mark Gearan

Iowa is a state known for its commitment to service. It is home to an estimated 11,000 servicemembers, 203,000 veterans, 264,500 government employees and 7,600 national service program participants, like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

As high school and university campuses empty and prepare for the incoming class of 2022, my hope is for outgoing seniors to think about how they can use their new skills, energy and passion for societal issues to better serve their communities, especially rural communities they grew up in.

Rural America faces many challenges, varying across communities. As a vital component of the American culture and economy, it is important to address the needs of rural communities, like Vinton, and encourage younger generations to become involved in the community development through service.

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is working to foster a greater ethos of military, national and public service among citizens, especially younger Americans, to strengthen the nation’s democracy. The Commission, established by Congress, will share final recommendations with the public, Congress, and the President in March of 2020.

This week, the Commission is headed to Vinton, Iowa, the fifth stop on our cross-country tour. Our recommendations will stem from these meetings and other meetings across the country. We want to hear perspectives from the communities that aren’t always heard. We are especially hoping to engage and hear the voices of young people.

My colleagues and I hope to learn about rural communities’ needs and what barriers can be met through dedicated service opportunities. While in Vinton, we will be meeting with members of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) – one of four campuses nationwide –to hear their perspective on how younger people are engaging in rural and agricultural service. NCCC engages teams across the U.S. to address recovery from natural and other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental and energy conservation, and urban and rural development. Members mentor students and address local needs like constructing housing, responding to natural disasters, and developing community emergency plans.

Vinton residents understand the importance of service. Many will recall the historic Cedar River flood. The city needed help rebuilding key community infrastructure, including the Benton County Jail, and many homes. Vinton tapped into their community networks to rebuild, with support from FEMA and volunteers.

Service teaches about becoming motivated, flexible, and outcome-oriented leaders who can mobilize others to achieve shared goals. Organizations and companies are interested in hiring individuals with these skills and, for many, service opportunities become pathways to careers.

Generation Z has the untapped power to serve their communities and country. Individuals who participate in national service programs, like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, develop essential skills that make them strong candidates for rewarding careers.

For those who have never considered service or say it’s not for them, I urge you to consider starting now.

My hope is to spark a movement that leaves every American – especially young Americans – inspired and eager to serve.

There is no limit to service. It can be in the local community, nationally or in the military.

It is not too late for Iowans to join the movement. I hope you will join the Commission on Tuesday, June 26, at our public meeting to discuss how service can help communities, like Vinton, better meet rural and agricultural needs.

If you cannot make it to the meeting, please join the national conversation. Chat with your neighbor, share your comments on our website, or post on social media using the hashtag #Inspire2Serve. We look forward to visiting Iowa and hearing from Vinton.

Mark Gearan is a Vice Chair on the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is the Director of the Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School and Special Advisor for Public Service Initiatives at Harvard College. Prior, Mr. Gearan served as President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and served as the Director of the Peace Corps.