Monday, December 1, 2008

Public Service Jobs

"As a dreary Thanksgiving comes and goes, one answer is to mobilize Generation O tohelp the nation's struggling nonprofit sector...Of nearly 1 million nonprofits up and running, as many as 100,000 will fail over the coming six months...[Obama] wants to expand Americorp to 250,000 members. A million might be a better target, especially as part of an economic stimulus package."

Paul C. Light,"Obama Must Mobilize Supporters to Help Nonprofits," Washington Post, November 28, 2008

In spring 1976, I turned down a VISTA position in rural Missouri to take a job with a start-up community development corporation (CDC)in the Pilsen neighorhood of Chicago that paid even less. We rebabbed abandoned buildings while training young people in the trades. Over the next few years we used CETA Title Vl, Public Service Employment (PSE) slots to pay wages for this construction training as well as for a few administrative positions. I recount some of this experience in Nonprofit Leadership.

I'm not sure that I was the targeted beneficiary of CETA at this time, but in my experience these slots combined opportunities for low-income, unemployed young people in inner-city neighborhoods along with newly-minted college graduates who wanted to do good. In the process, a whole generation of nonprofits got started or strengthened along with a generation of people who went on in their careers and lives to contribute in many ways.

One opportunity today for this type of public service employment is to help build the grassroots infrastructure for energy conservation and urban agriculture. A Green Corp strand of expanded public service could help weatherize homes, build community gardens, launch agricultural/food enterprises, scale up farmers markets, and provide technical assistance to residents and businesses. This kind of human resource could help build out community-wide plans for local food and energy.

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