It was a rainy Friday morning on April 17, 2015 as community leaders, volunteers and educators from the region and beyond came together at the Woodland Commons on the UMass Dartmouth campus.  The topic?  How civic engagement can strengthen our communities, economies and more.

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Russell Krumnow from Opportunity Nation

Hosted by UMass Dartmouth’s Leduc Center, the Civic Engagement Summit has become an opportunity to bring social innovators together to discuss solutions for engaging community members in volunteerism.

This year’s event started with keynote speaker Russell Krumnow from Opportunity Nation.  Opportunity Nation is dedicated to analyzing the level of opportunity that counties throughout the country provide their youth.  As an example, Krumnow showed Bristol County’s rating; a C+.

These rating are based on a number of cumulative factors such as unemployment rates, educational attainment and youth disengagement.  With millions of American youth unable to find work, and often lacking supportive mentors, Opportunity Nation focuses on solutions for improving youth access to the American dream.

Krumnow discussed how the single most important factor to improving opportunity is through civic engagement and volunteerism.  By participating in these activities, youth members of the community are able to learn real-world skills and network with mentors and potential employers.

Wendy Spencer from CNCS, with UMass Dartmouth student and AmeriCorp member Gabrielle Monteiro.

Wendy Spencer from CNCS, with UMass Dartmouth student and AmeriCorp member Gabrielle Monteiro.

The next keynote speaker was Wendy Spencer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).  CNCS focuses on providing service opportunities through such programs as AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and much more.

CNCS has collected some strong supportive data for the power of engaging youth through service, and the importance of mentorship.  For example, in their program College Possible, 98% of low-income students who were supported by tutors an mentors went on to become college students, and were ten times more likely to earn a degree.

Civic engagement is not only important for American youths, it is key to the success of all Americans.  Spencer discussed findings indicating that unemployed Americans who volunteer are 27% more likely to find employment.

Overall, it was a highly inspiring event, and we found it especially exciting in the context of our internship program, which over the past three years has provided over 2,300 hours of service learning opportunities to local students.

We’d also like to extend a congratulations to the Civic Engagement Awards recipients including UMass Dartmouth student Jacob Miller, UMass Dartmouth Professor of English Robert Waxler, and Fall River activist Nicholas Christ.

Chancellor Divina Grossman, Civic Engagement Award winner Jacob Miller, Rev. Dr. Robert Laurence, and Leduc Center Director Matt Roy.

Chancellor Divina Grossman, Civic Engagement Award winner Jacob Miller, Rev. Dr. Robert Lawrence, and Leduc Center Director Matt Roy.

It was also wonderful to see Reverend Dr. Robert Lawrence receive the Presidential Service Award.  And so, to end this article we’d like to quote Reverend Dr. Lawrence’s award acceptance speech, “Life is like being a tennis player, those who serve best usually win”.