This story was written by Victoria Fosdal, The Hoya
One Georgetown University senior has already caught the eye of nine presidential candidates.
Deeply impacted by his time spent volunteering for AmeriCorp during a two-year leave of absence from college, Aaron Marquez, and Zach Maurin, a fellow AmeriCorp volunteer who graduated from George Washington University this year, have come together to create ServeNext, a non-profit organization lobbies on behalf of service organizations that are prohibited by law from lobbying. In recent months, nine presidential candidates have pledged more support for national service organizations as a result of the organization's advocacy.
ServeNext has worked to establish ties with the next United States president by asking presidential candidates to sign a pledge to expand national service if elected. The pledge calls for an increase of 100,000 AmeriCorp positions -- raising the total to 170,000 members -- and a promotion of service learning programs in the education system.
"We [will try] to make them responsible for their pledges," Marquez said.
By approaching 2008 presidential candidates during town hall meetings in New Hampshire this summer, ServeNext has already received signatures from all eight Democratic candidates, as well as Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.
"What's most timely and most interesting is that people under 25 years old have gotten nine presidential candidates to commit to the largest national service expansion since [Franklin Roosevelt]'s Civilian Conservation Corp," Maurin said.
Marquez said that his cause was motivated largely by a decrease in federal support for national service organizations.
Over the past five years, Congress has decreased the federal appropriations for the Corporation for National Community Service -- a program created in 1993 by then-President William Jefferson Clinton to administer service organizations -- by more than $100 million, according to the country's National Service Budget.
The rules and regulations of CNCS, however, prohibit national service organizations from lobbying.
"While I was in AmeriCorp, and even as an alumnus of AmeriCorp, I watched the budget go down, and I kept telling people, 'Hey we need to do something,'" Marquez said. "At a certain point, I got fed up, so I decided to start an organization that was explicitly advocating the political issue."
Marquez said that his service in recent years was a significant factor in his decision to form ServeNext.
At the time of Sept. 11, 2001, Marquez was a freshman at Arizona State University. "I saw everything I was studying wasn't very meaningful," he said. "I found out about AmeriCorp while I was having those feelings."
Marquez decided to leave school and serve two years running a service-learning program for 150 inner-city middle school students in Boston.
"Basically, every Saturday from nine to five, we picked a social-justice issue for the day and taught about it," he said. "The other half of the day would be spent volunteering in a soup kitchen."
Starting with Georgetown, Marquez and Maurin have set out to establish university chapters of ServeNext across the country.
"Georgetown could be leading the way in recruiting," Marquez said, adding that University President John J. DeGioia is the chair of the Board of Directors of Campus Compact, a coalition of university presidents who have made public commitments to civic engagement and the support of social justice. "Georgetown can be a spokesperson university for creating the incentives for how people want to do service."
Marquez said immediate goals of the Georgetown chapter include collecting e-mail addresses to add to a national database, raising awareness through tabling, holding "serve-in" public service projects, collaborating with service groups like AmeriCorp and holding forums on national service on campus.
"Right now we're working on getting off the ground," said Michael Loebl, director of the Georgetown chapter, which he said would serve as a model for future chapters across the country.
Some larger-scale projects for ServeNext, Marquez said, include pushing for preferential treatment in college admissions for service organization alumni and convincing universities to match the monetary awards given to service volunteers for educational purposes with scholarships.
According to its website, ServeNext hopes to expand group membership to 150,000 members in 150 different chapters by 2011.
"If you have people, you will have power," Loebl said. "All it takes is motivation."
"This story appears courtesy of UWIRE, a news service powered by student journalists at more than 800 universities. To learn more, visit UWIRE.com."
© 2007 The Hoya via U-WIRE