Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Teach for America inspires through action

Although the human race was born with the instinct to help others, the American passion to volunteer seemed to be ignited by the 1961 inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy.

"Ask not what your country can do for you," Kennedy implored his Capitol audience, "ask what you can do for your country."

Not the least outgrowth of his speech was the Peace Corps, which has attracted thousands of young and old to go abroad for virtual pennies in wages to uplift the lives of millions of people in scant and sometimes primitive circumstances with made-in-the-USA skills.

A latecomer to that spirit of volunteerism, Teach for America, is in its own right an example that does honor to the young volunteers who temporarily waive the privileged life to work among those who need help to learn.

Founded in 1990, Teach for America asks college graduates to sign on for a year or so of teaching chores in rural and urban areas, where poverty has deprived children of the best in education.

Graduates of blue-ribbon colleges, who could be entering professions and commerce at high five-figure or low six-figure salaries, enter classrooms to provide true meaning to the ethos of helping thy neighbor.

Volunteerism takes many forms. However, few have as much long-term significance for the quality of American life and society as volunteering to provide education to whole groups of children shortchanged by economic circumstances and crippled by lack of opportunity.

Teach for America graduates may fire up the intellectual drive of a future scientist or doctor whose work years from now will save lives. Or, a future corporate executive. Or, men and women of religious callings. Or even those who will become teachers in time.

Like the Peace Corps and other outreach charitable groups, Teach for America is only for those whose hearts are dedicated to selfless work. Pay is relatively low and only what school districts where they work can afford.

Yet, the crush to join is phenomenal. Applications to Teach for America by college grads was up 30 percent last year, and this year more than 17,000 volunteers applied—with slightly less than 3,000 being accepted.

These young college grads are justly filled with a sense they're contributing to the betterment of people seeking a lift up.

In the end, a surprise awaits those who toil for Teach for America as well as all worthwhile volunteer efforts. They'll discover that they, too, have benefited, and are better people for giving of themselves to others. And, in the process, they inspire us all.

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