I spent last Friday with the 2008-09 City Year Seattle/King County corps, and it was wonderful to be back! This time last year I was wearing the red jacket, volunteering at Chief Sealth High School and running a service-learning program for high school youth. Last Friday I put on my alumna hat by speaking with City Year stakeholders and educating this year’s corps about why they should vote.
What a powerful group of young people — 53 idealists from across the nation, ages 17-24, who have come to Seattle to serve youth in the Pacific Northwest. A few corps members are from Washington; most are from out-of-state. Yes, that’s right — here’s a fresh crop of new Washington voters, young adults eager to learn about Washington’s public schools.
These are our most valuable education voters. They are our future teachers, school administrators, non-profit leaders, social workers and perhaps even our future legislators. City Year places these energetic, passionate young adults in schools around Puget Sound, including Wing Luke Elementary, Dearborn Park Elementary, Denny Middle School, Asa Mercer Middle School, Chinook Middle School (Highline), Chief Sealth High School and the African-American Academy. Corps members also serve youth at Treehouse, South Park Community Center and the Center for Young Adults (part of the YMCA of Greater Seattle), .
City Year corps members are familiar with education issues because they are in classrooms as tutors and mentors, providing academic support to K-12 students and facilitating afterschool programs and weekend service-learning programs. They are invested in the issues because they know the students, parents and teachers affected by key issues like the WASL, graduation requirements and funding.
Last Friday was productive and inspirational. It started with the Breakfast of Champions, a community engagement event attended by a variety of stakeholders including Cheryl Chow (president) and Harium Martin-Morris (director) of the Seattle School Board and Davy Muth, Wing Luke Elementary principal and City Year service partner.
Following the breakfast, I delivered a presentation to the corps called, “You, Washington State and the 2008 Election.” My goals were to register new voters, remind out-of-state voters to check their state guidelines and to highlight why every vote counts. Here in Washington State, we’re all quite familiar with tight races. If the 2004 gubernatorial race and last year’s Simple Majority Campaign won’t convince you that your vote matters, I don’t know what will!
According to a USA TODAY/MTV/Gallup Poll of registered 18-29 year-old voters (see the October 6th USA Today article, “Young voters hint at electorate shift”), Obama leads McCain 61 percent to 32 percent among this age group, making this “the most lopsided contest within an age group in any presidential election in modern times.” The young voter turnout rate jumped 9 percentage points from 2000 to 2004, and in the presidential primaries, it nearly doubled in 2008 (since 2000).
Volunteerism is on the rise, especially among young people. Involvement in community service raises social and political awareness. Greater knowledge and investment in pressing social issues fuel the fire for change. It’s no wonder young voters support Obama. He inspires greater participation in national service programs like City Year, Teach For America and AmeriCorps because a) he’s mobilizing youth and b) he’s willing to financially reward those who commit to national service.
City Year, keep up the great work! Friday was a reminder of the importance of outreach and the ripple effect that it has on social change.