May 25th, 2010

Here at APP, we talk a lot about civic engagement.

What is civic engagement? Being involved in your community. Unfortunately, it’s more rare today than ever.  Stephen Black, founder of IMPACT Alabama, spoke about this phenomenon during ourAmeriCorps week celebration:

“What I believe to be the biggest challenge facing the future of ethics in this country…of moral progress…is fewer and fewer Americans have meaningful relationships with people unlike themselves, spending time aimed at causes and purposes beyond their own self-interest. You think of traditional means of civic engagement, the zone of obligation beyond family and work…I’m talking about the third zone of obligation: what obligation do you owe to other human beings outside of family and work?”

Why does civic engagement matter? Well, a lack of civic engagement has harmful consequences for Americans’ academic and economic progress, according to a recent report from Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts.

If high school and college students become more civically engaged through programs like service-learning and learning communities, they become committed to a lifetime of service. That helps improve our state.  This idea inspired our Lifetime of Learning campaign.

Religious Millenials are more likely to be civically engaged than their non-religious peers (aged 18-29),CIRCLE reports. This suggests what we already know: young people who are already plugged into a supportive community group are more likely to be active in that community and to reach out to help others.

CIRCLE also knows that students need to be educated and equipped to become civically engaged:

“Citizens can improve their communities, the government, and the nation through active civic engagement and collaboration. To do so requires skills. Educational programs and other government-supported initiatives have been shown to enhance Americans’ civic skills and their levels of engagement. But these programs and other opportunities are scarce and unequal, often provided to people who are already the most likely to be engaged.”

What types of programs help young people be more confident and equipped to be good citizens? High school mentoring programs. Service-learning experiences. Field trips that take students out of the classroom and give them new, hands-on experiences.

APP is working with our Higher Education Partners to build these initiatives at Alabama’s high schools and colleges.  We know that the more engaged Alabamians are, the better shot we have at eradicating poverty.