Service Year Alliance

In 2012, Laura was seated in the 3,500-seat Music Tent at the Aspen Ideas Festival, listening to 4-Star General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal, Former Commander of the U.S. Forces Afghanistan, speak about leadership. When asked what could transform American citizenship, General McChrystal responded that all young people should serve their country, doing either military or community service for a minimum of one year. A standing ovation ensued. Deeply inspired, Laura immediately went to work with Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute at the time, to help create the Franklin Project: which sought to improve citizenship by giving every young person in America the opportunity to do a fully paid, full-time year of service anywhere in the country. The Franklin Project was named after Benjamin Franklin, who believed that service by citizens was central to our democracy.

In 2016, the Franklin Project merged with two of its partner organizations, ServiceNation at Be The Change and the Service Year Exchange at the National Conference on Citizenship, to form a new nonprofit organization named Service Year Alliance with the mission of making a year of paid, full-time service a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans. The Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece about this rare and unique nonprofit merger: “Nonprofit Mergers: The Missing Ingredient.”

A service year before, during, or after college gives young people the chance to transform their lives, make an impact in their community, and become the active citizens and leaders our nation needs. Expanding service years has the power to revitalize cities, uplift and educate children at risk, and empower communities struggling with poverty.

Laura has been a critical force during each stage of the organization’s success – she helped launch the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, supported the work generously and joined both groups’ Leadership Councils, and most recently is serving as a co-chair of the organization’s Serve America Together campaign.

In addition, Laura has been instrumental in ensuring that national service is strong in Northern California. In particular, Laura’s support helped the City of San Jose hire its first-ever Chief Service Officer. This jointly funded position made it possible for San Jose to strategically align various service and community engagement efforts across the city for the first time into a cohesive vision to reimagine the San Jose as a leading service-oriented city, to set a new standard for community involvement in tackling the city’s toughest problems, and to promote all forms of community service, including service years — as a core element of what it means to be a citizen in the most innovative city in the world. Today, the City of San Jose is a Service Year Impact Community, joining a dedicated group of communities that are leading the charge to expand service year opportunities to solve local challenges.

Laura and Stan McChrystal spoke about the big idea of Service Year Alliance and the potential for service years to heal America at the 2021 Aspen Ideas Festival:


Learn more at Service Year Alliance’s website.

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