Everybody knows one. They were the straight A students in high school who found time to volunteer every weekend with Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity. Some call then “Do Gooders” and overachievers; they call themselves social entrepreneurs. They are a select group of teens and 20-somethings who have taken a passion for community service to the next level. Generation Y has faced criticisms from its elders for being self-indulgent and unmotivated texting addicts. I recently had the opportunity to meet a group of young people who are going against the grain and have committed one year to make a positive difference in the New Orleans community.
City Year Louisiana (http://www.cityyear.org/louisiana.aspx) is a division of AmeriCorps that charges people between 17 and 24 to take a year off from college or career to work with struggling students in New Orleans and Baton Rouge schools. These Corps members put their lives—and incomes—on hold to move across the country and work on a poverty stipend. Each workday is spent tutoring, mentoring, calling parents, planning with instructors and facilitating service projects. Their mission is to keep kids in school, teach the importance of giving back and becoming a trusted friend and mentor to each child they work with. The formula is working in New Orleans: Walter L. Cohen High School has seen its graduation rates spike from a shocking 33% in 2007 to 96% in 2009 with the help of Corps members.
So why do they do it? Is it Generation Y guilt or to make the rest of us feel bad? In the words of one Corps member: “I can’t give my money but I can give my time.” Positively changing the next generation will benefit our communities later on. As we approach 2011, I plan to add, “Become a social entrepreneur” to my resolutions along with going to the gym and cutting out junk food. I may not be ready for the yearlong commitment and poverty stipend, but I am inspired to eventually become one of these overachievers and help create a better New Orleans.