History of US Non-Military National Service


"The Moral Equivalent of War"

1910: American philosopher and psychologist William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) writes about non-military national service in his essay "The Moral Equivalent of War." In the classic essay, James discusses the problem of how to sustain civic unity in the absence of war or crisis: "…instead of military conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years as a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out and numerous other goods of the commonwealth would follow."

William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910)

CCC poster by Albert M. Bender, Illinois WPA Art Project (1935)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

1933-1942: During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a public work relief program for unemployed, unmarried men as part of the New Deal. In nine years, 3 million young men planted nearly 3 billion trees, constructed more than 800 parks, updated forest fighting capabilities, and built countless service buildings and public roadways. As the program came to an end, some former CCC sites served as Civilian Public Service camps where conscientious objectors performed "work of national importance" in the first non-military national service alternative from 1941 to 1947.

Peace Corps & VISTA

1961: President John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps to provide assistance and to forge bonds of friendship and understanding between America and the developing world. In his final State of the Union address in 1963, President Kennedy proposed a “domestic Peace Corps” to serve “our own community needs in mental health hospitals, on Indian reservations, in centers for the aged and young delinquents, in schools for the illiterate and handicapped.”

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson fulfilled Kennedy’s dream with the establishment of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).

Sen. John F. Kennedy speaks to students at the U of Michigan on a campaign stop. (Oct. 14, 1960)

City Year co-founders Alan Khazei and Michael Brown in original City Year sweatshirts. (1988)

A New Era of National Service

1980s to Present: With demand for service opportunities far outpacing available positions, nonprofit organizations begin to fill the critical gap for immersive, long-term national service programs. These organizations general focus on specific causes, such as education, healthcare, poverty, etc.

As with earlier national service programs established by the government, these new organizations scale through government subsidies, but also tap into private philanthropy: City Year, founded by Alan Khazei and Michael Brown (1988), Teach For America, founded by Wendy Kopp (1989).

Later additions include: New Sector Alliance, founded by Carly Janson (2000), Global Health Corps, founded by Barbara Bush and others (2009).

AmeriCorps & Corporation for National and Community Service

1993: President Bill Clinton creates a new federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), to administer federally-funded national service programs. The law created AmeriCorps, which was designed to support local, state, and national community service organizations.

Some of the programs, organizations, and institutions partnering with AmeriCorps include Communities In SchoolsJumpstartCitizen Schools (our Social Sector Partner), City YearYouthBuildYouth Volunteer CorpsYMCA, International Rescue Committee, Hands On Mississippi, Notre Dame Mission Volunteers - AmeriCorps, Girl Scouts of the USA, Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Camp Fire, College Forward, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Habitat for Humanity, the Student Conservation Association, Project Transformation, Reading Partners, FoodCorps, Minnesota Reading Corps and Teach For America.

President Clinton establishes AmeriCorps, State Service Commissions, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. (Sept. 21, 1993)

Comments of Visiting Professor Yossi Klein Halevi on Matt Ronen's final college pager on the creation of the "Service Year Fellowship". (March 5, 2004)

The Service Year Idea is Born

2004: On March 5, 2004, Matt Ronen, then a senior at Colorado College, submits the final paper of his undergraduate studies proposing the "Service Year" idea. Matt's proposed model leverages corporate sponsorship to adapt Israeli national service for the United States post-college market. Matt writes about the need for service year to be "a movement that attracts the best and brightest" and "employs their collective energy" within a fellowship that provides "a meaningful framework for personal, professional, and leadership development."

Matt's visiting professor, renowned author and public intellectual Yossi Klein Halevi, calls service year "original, creative, impassioned," but wisely gives the paper a low grade due to the implausibility of gaining corporate traction in the economic and cultural climate of the time.

The Aspen Institute, Franklin Project

2012: General Stanley McChrystal, in a conversation with television journalist Bob Schieffer at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2012, made widely publicized remarks on the potential civic benefits of large-scale national service. The positive public reception to these comments help to spark a national service initiative led by the Aspen Institute, known as the Franklin Project. The Franklin Project, led by director Jay Mangone, brings together notable national service veterans such as Alan Khazei, John Bridgeland, and Shirley Sagawa to make a 'year of service': "a cultural expectation, common opportunity, and civic rite of passage for every young American."

In this discussion Gen. Stanley McChrystal had with CBS anchor Bob Schieffer at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, McChrystal calls for an increased committment to service. This led to the creation of the The Aspen Institute Franklin Project, a new venture established to marshal a voluntary civilian counterpart to US military service.
The Aspen Institute, Franklin Project on national service.

The Aspen Institute, Franklin Project on national service.

Matt Ronen speaks at Citigroup headquarters to internship class. (July 22, 2015)

Matt Ronen with  Wendy Kopp , the founder of Teach For America, at the Service Matters Summit. (Sept. 15, 2016)

Matt Ronen with Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America, at the Service Matters Summit. (Sept. 15, 2016)

Service Year Movement & ServiceCorps

2011-2016: Matt Ronen, then in his final semester of business school at Cornell University and 7 years after he first conceived of a "service year," revisits the idea in light of his own military service experience and new trends in corporate social responsibility and millennial attitudes.

In 2013, the idea finally begins to gain traction and Matt is chosen as an Echoing Green Semifinalist. 

On November 29, 2013, Matt officially launches the Service Year Movement to disrupt the college-to-corporate career path with a year of full-time service. He designs a new model of cross-sector national service (private, nonprofit, public) that integrates seamlessly with the needs of leading corporations that recruit top undergraduates.

In 2015, the first Fortune 500 corporations sign on as inaugural partners of the "ServiceCorps Fellowship".

On May 14, 2016, Matt Ronen launches ServiceCorps. On June 20, 2016, the first ServiceCorps Fellows arrive at the historic General Electric Headquarters for the inaugural Service-Leadership Institute. 

In 2016, Mr. Ronen joins the Service Year Alliance’s Leadership Council. The Service Year Alliance is the result of a merger between General Stanley McChrystal's Franklin Project, the National Conference on Citizenship, and The Aspen Institute.

William James: By Notman Studios (photographer) - [1]MS Am 1092 (1185), Series II, 23, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Public Domain. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): By Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project; Albert M. Bender, designer - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.12896. JFK: Photograph by Frederick L. Shippey in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. City Year: Official Flickr account. Aspen Institute: Franklin Project homepage. Service Year, Inc.: © Service Year, Inc. and ServiceCorps® and Matt Ronen. All rights reserved.

Member Login
Welcome, (First Name)!

Forgot? Show
Log In
Enter Member Area
My Profile Not a member? Sign up. Log Out