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Gotta Serve Somebody

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Over the years we’ve seen an impressive array of attempts to “re-conceptualize” volunteering, at least to re-name it.  Last fall, the United States saw a flurry of special events, legislative proposals and media attention focused on the subject of “service.” It was brought to a head by an event called ServiceNation in New York City on September 11-12.  The momentum for this vocabulary choice has continued, as evidenced by the Obama Administration’s new “United We Serve” initiative. The problem in talking about service as a huge mass of effort is that it hinders rather than helps both debate and action. It’s left to the listener to consider the context and the speaker each time the word is used. The resulting confusion directly affects those of us most concerned with volunteering because it is genuinely hard to tell when someone is advocating for us or forgetting about us.

In this Points of View, Susan and Steve analyze the many uses of the word “service.” They also react positively to the vision of the future mentioned by at least four of the celebrity speakers at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.  In one way or another, each celebrity offered this scenario:

That when we meet someone and are making conversation, one of the top five things we choose to talk about will be: “…and where do you serve?”