A National Conversation on Service

Written by: Andres F. Lazo

“A dollar a day” ─ a quote from my grandfather that would serve as one of my earliest childhood lessons on service to others.  My grandfather would proudly recount his youth in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  He earned a dollar a day, he would say, and at the end of each month he would keep only five dollars of his earnings. The remaining money earned was sent to his family back home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I recall his enthusiasm each time that he told his stories of early morning reveille and labor and the self-confidence he gained each day from completing a hard days’ work at the CCC. In the early 1930s, The New Deal program moved my grandfather from his isolated life on a ranch, making him a much stronger, experienced and socially connected young man that gave back to his country through a lifetime of community service.

In the CCC camps, U.S. military reserve officers served as stewards by translating their training and experiences to lead young men through the important work of conservation; the construction of trails, the planting of trees and the preservation of public lands ─ areas that form many of our state and national parks today.  My grandfather worked during the Great Depression, an era that called for new ways of thinking, working and leading.  During this turbulent and ambitious time, individuals came together for the common purpose and for the larger end goal of economic renewal. Young men and women from all walks of life contributed, not simply to complete a job, but to deliver public services while actively adding social and personal value to their own lives.

At ninety-six years of age, my grandfather’s personal story spans the better part of a century in our country, including almost thirty years as a civil servant. He takes great pride in being an American citizen and contributing to his country through public service during a critical chapter in our nation’s history.  His initial investment of time and energy as a conservationist yielded positive dividends and lasting benefits to him and his family. He passed a profound lesson onto me: “…service to our country is not an antiquated idea; it means working together to pursue larger goals in the face of great challenges.”

Today, our global environment is fast, fluid and diverse while we are confronted with many unforeseen monumental challenges. Adapting to a highly competitive and dynamic world requires that we all come to the table and start a national conversation on service. Innovative groups such as The Franklin Project (under the direction of General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal), The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon have captured the American spirit of service for the 21st century. But long-term sustainability requires buy-in from all stakeholders, to include our private and public sectors, higher education, health services, governmental, military, faith-based communities, philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. Together, we can start to expand our expectations and renew our economy by focusing on serving our communities and actively empowering young people to follow the lead of previous generations.

Listening to my grandfather has been critical to my experience and education as an American citizen. He taught me about gratitude for the freedoms that many people before me have made sacrifices to protect and to seek purpose in our shared democratic energy. My love for my grandfather stayed with me when I served overseas in the United States Army. For me, service has been a way of life and part of the core values passed down by my family. I believe it is essential to surviving in our global economy and being an active American citizen. As a country today, it is our generational commitment of time and energy that will be an important reinvestment for igniting our national conversation on service.

Andres Lazo served in the U.S. Army and earned a Purple Heart during combat operations in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He is a Defense Comptrollership Program (DCP) student veteran pursuing a dual degree Executive MPA at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, with an MBA from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.