By Josh Fryday | Special to CalMatters
I am thankful on this Veterans Day. I had the honor to serve our country as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Now, as chief service officer for the state of California, I have the opportunity to bring home my experience and empower all Californians to serve our state and nation.
In the Navy, I witnessed firsthand the power and impact of service. I was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, in 2011 when the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster struck. My wife, who was at the time three months pregnant with our first son, was evacuated, and I was deployed to the flagship overseeing the largest disaster and humanitarian aid and relief effort in our military’s history.
When serving in the armed forces, political differences do not matter. What matters is completing the mission and overcoming the challenge at hand.
When we were in the command center monitoring minute-by-minute intelligence of the nuclear disaster, or in heavily secured military bases, we depended on each other. We had a common purpose—we loved our country—and trusted each other with our lives. The success of our mission depended on this shared trust and commitment to service.
I know through my own experience that service creates the opportunity for people to unite, tackle daunting problems, and accomplish great things together.
California is facing challenges such as homelessness, climate change, poverty, and natural disasters, to name a few. If we are going to be successful in tackling these issues, we need to harness the power of our greatest asset, the 40 million people who call California home.
Californians want to make a difference. We take care of each other. It is who we are. During the recent fires, I saw communities throughout the state stand up emergency shelters in hours. Strangers offered their homes to evacuees. Small business owners prepared meals for the hungry.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has long been an admirer of Sargent Shriver, who advanced his vision of servant leadership through the Peace Corps, VISTA and many other programs, marshalling a generation of Americans to help lift each other up.
Gov. Newsom has always been clear: as we work to create a California for All, good solutions will not and cannot come only from Sacramento.
Solutions will come from the 4,000 AmeriCorps service members across the state. Some are working to clear defensible space to protect against wildfire. Doctors are increasing access to basic health care in rural clinics. Lawyers provide legal aid at the border. The retiree tutor helps underserved students learn.
Service should be a rite of passage for all Californians, a way to help young adults pay for college, a career path or transition to good jobs, and a way for retirees to share their experience and wisdom with their communities.
This is why California Volunteers is hard at work mobilizing Californians to serve in their communities.
To start, California is helping young people who commit to serve in their communities go to college. This year, any student who commits to a year with one of our state-sponsored AmeriCorps programs will receive a scholarship of $10,000 toward his or her education.
We know the power of service as a pathway to the middle class. We draw our lessons from the national GI Bill, which gave generations of the veterans we honor today the opportunity to advance in life.
We recently announced a $13 million investment in communities throughout the Central Valley, creating service opportunities for over 600 Californians who will address educational and health needs in underserved communities.
California is investing to create a renewed culture of service, to inspire individuals to give back while making college more attainable for many.
I am grateful for Veterans Day, and for the opportunity to serve. I want to challenge every Californian to ask how they can be of service to their state and community.
Visit CaliforniaVolunteers.ca.gov to learn how you can get involved. Whether it’s as a few hours at a local soup kitchen, committing to serve with AmeriCorps for a year after college or during retirement, or through a career in local or state government, California needs you.
Josh Fryday, former mayor of Novato, is the chief service officer of California, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead California Volunteers, Josh.Fryday@californiavolunteers.ca.gov. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.