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The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America

ISBN: 978-0-470-56557-5
256 pages
May 2010, Jossey-Bass
The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America (0470565578) cover image


How ordinary citizens dedicated to service can change the face of America's most critical issues

What if the nation were able to capitalize on the energy of Americans willing to serve and volunteer for a year or more? This inspirational book tells the stories of real people who have dedicated themselves to service and the nonprofits that engaged them. It shows how selflessness and service have transformed lives and communities, and can address similar problems throughout the country. The author profiles successes, demonstrates measurable effects, and shows how impact is made. This book describes how we can achieve change, through action at both the community and organizational level.

  • Filled with illustrative examples and key lessons
  • Highlights programs such as Teach for America, City Year, and Community Health Corps
  • Shows how nonprofits can create successful service programs to tackle different issues

The book shows what America would look like if programs like these operated at scale across the country not just in one or two neighborhoods, but wherever they were needed.

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Table of Contents





About the Author.

1. Introduction.

About This Book.

Part I: Changing Lives: Impacts on Those Who Serve.

2. Powering Life Transitions.

Transition to the Teen Years.

Transition to Productive Adulthood.

Transition from College to Career.

Transition from Career to Retirement.

Transition from Crisis to Coping.

Potential for Transformation.

3. Strengthening Civic Engagement.

Service and Civic Engagement.

How Service Helps.

Political Activism.

Potential for Transformation.

Part II: Tackling Tough Problems: Impacts on Others.

4. Advancing Education.

Early Childhood Development.

Elementary and Secondary Education.

Potential for Transformation.

5. Improving Health and Well-Being.



Potential for Transformation.

6. Helping People and Communities in Distress.



Potential for Transformation.

7. Protecting the Environment.

Conserving Energy.

Protecting the Environment.

Potential for Transformation.

8. Inspiring and Sustaining Innovative Solutions.

Service and Social Innovation.

Today's Innovators.

Service Alumni Entrepreneurs.

Potential for Transformation.

9. What You Can Do.



Nonprofit Organizations.



Media and Entertainment.


Locally Elected Officials.

State Policymakers.

Federal Policymakers.

Potential for Transformation.

10. Conclusion.

Appendix: High-Impact Service Programs.



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Author Information

Shirley Sagawa is a fellow at the Washington think tank Center for American Progress. She has been called a "founding mother of the modern service movement" in the United States and has served as head of the Obama transition team for the Corporation for National and Community Service. She continues to advise the administration and congress regarding national service policy. Shirley also consults and advises numerous nonprofits on volunteering and service and served as a staff member of the White House during the Clinton Administration.
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Press Release

May 05, 2010
The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America

San Francisco, CA – What is the typical profile of someone who volunteers? What does he or she look like? Would this person be an elderly, African American “Foster Grandparent” who coddles premature babies for $2.20 an hour for an underfunded hospital? Or does this person resemble a Marketing Executive who lends pro bono marketing and IT services to nonprofit organization? This frail Foster Grandparent and Marketing Executive seem to have little in common, yet they represent the diversity of volunteers available to help solve America’s challenges.

The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America (Jossey-Bass; 978-0-470-56557-5; May 2010) by Shirley Sagawa outlines a compelling vision of national service at scale and illustrates what this means for our country, arguing that policymakers should put more resources into service in order to solve pressing problems. By profiling real people who have served, the impact they have made and organizations they have worked with, this book tells a powerful story of change and shows readers how they too can change their own communities through service. Examples include people like Washington DC Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee who began her career as a Teach for America corps member and is now a nationally recognized school system leader, pursuing reforms once thought impossible in a large city district.

The American Way to Change points to four ways in which service has had an impact, opportunities in which even greater results could be obtained with greater investment of human and financial services. First, it looks at how serving changes the lives of those performing the service. It then examines the impact of service on civil society and the way that citizens engage in their communities. Next, it looks at the impact on specific challenge facing the nation and how service can address them – child development, education, health, poverty, aging, energy conservation, environmental protection and disaster response. It examines the role that service has played in social innovation. Finally, it offers a new blueprint for future action to maximize the potential of service to point the way forward for America.

As AmeriCorps Week approaches (May 8-15), many alums and volunteers want to shine a spotlight on service. The American Way to Change shows how America would look if programs like these operated at scale – not just in one or two neighborhoods, but wherever they were needed. It will describe how we can achieve this change through action at the community and organizational level, and how service programs can tackle different issues with examples and key lessons. Finally, this book speaks to ordinary Americans about what they can do to make a difference.




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