“Serve your neighbors. Serve your cities. Serve the poor. Join others who serve. … For, in the end it will be the servants who save us all.”
Those were the words of the great Marylander Sargent Shriver at the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps, less than two weeks after the September 11 attacks. Even in the wake of tragedy, Shriver maintained his trademark optimism. His hope for the future sprang from an abiding faith in the power of good people to come together and achieve great things: selflessly, tenaciously, and honorably.
More than 20 years after Shriver’s speech, his message still resonates. Maryland has a lot of work to do in this decade, from continuing our COVID-19 recovery to jolting a sluggish economy to tackling the polarization, tribalism and isolation that grips our state and many others. In this hour of peril and promise, we must heed Shriver’s words. Now is the time to rally around the power of service to save our communities and save our state.
The two of us — serving as the 63rd governor of Maryland and the Maryland secretary of service and civic innovation — are partnering with folks in the public and private sectors to build a state that serves. We are grateful for the hard work of Marylanders inside and outside of government who are already serving, and as Maryland Public Service Recognition Week draws to a close, we want to share our vision for answering the most pressing challenges of our time by building a state that serves.
We feel so strongly about this issue because we’ve seen firsthand how service can change lives and communities. One of us has led soldiers in combat in Afghanistan and is now the governor of our state, the other has served under the leadership of three different American presidents from two different parties, including as national director of AmeriCorps VISTA, an organization founded by Sargent Shriver himself. These experiences have shaped us into the public servants we are today and allowed us to do some good — from protecting the homeland to developing policies of peace and prosperity.
Our combined experiences have shown that service not only helps us tackle big problems, it also brings people together. Service is sticky: People who serve together stay together and build connections across race, class, background and political ideology. We need to focus on building these connections right now.
Earlier this month, the U.S. surgeon general released an 82-page report titled, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” outlining the serious threat that isolation poses to the well-being of our fellow Americans. In the report, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy writes that half of all U.S. adults experience loneliness, which can have devastating effects on mental and physical health. Service is the solution our state and nation need to reverse this trend, by breaking down divides and strengthening civic bonds. By elevating a culture of service, we will bring our state together again.
Investing in service will help us address a range of challenges all at once. In just over 100 days, we’ve moved with speed and strategy to make our vision a reality by building off the great work already happening throughout the public sector, across the private sector, and around the world to elevate service. One of the first acts of the Moore-Miller Administration was to create a new Department of Service and Civic Innovation, and it’s going to be the headquarters of our mission to bring people together and recruit Marylanders to help fix what’s broken in our state.
From engineers who want to build seawalls to protect our communities from climate change to lawyers ready to donate their time to give formerly incarcerated individuals a fresh start at life to social entrepreneurs who want to help us build a more just and more equitable future, our new department will facilitate different kinds of service from different parts of our state.
Of all the people we want to recruit to serve, our secret weapon is our young people. That’s why Maryland is going to make history by offering a full year of service to high school graduates in our state. The Moore-Miller Administration’s proposal for a service-year option has passed the Maryland General Assembly with votes from both Democrats and Republicans. It is now the law of the land.
We aren’t telling our young people how to serve. We are just asking them to serve. You can serve in conservation, you can serve in education, you can serve in housing, you can serve our veterans, you can serve in reentry work for folks returning from incarceration. It’s your choice.
We just want to offer our young people a chance to make our state better and find something that makes their hearts beat a little faster. The first stage of Maryland’s service-year option will launch later this year, and we will build out the program each year going forward.
Investing in service is a win-win-win. By calling Marylanders to serve, we will bridge the gap between ambition and employment, address the challenges in our communities and call on our citizens to get to know each other again, instead of retreating to corners of political ideology.
Today, we are ready to answer Sargent Shriver’s call to serve with service of our own. The work ahead won’t be easy, and we will need the partnership and support of every single Marylander to realize this vision. We have a lot to do, but if we do it together, we can achieve things no one thought possible. Now is the time to serve — and serve together.
Wes Moore is the 63rd governor of Maryland.
Paul Monteiro is Maryland’s newly appointed secretary of service and civic innovation.