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Rachel Karl: Where are tomorrow's leaders?

Canstockphoto.com##
Canstockphoto.com##

Many Baby Boomers I know keep asking me, “Where have all the young people gone, and how are they lending a hand?” The established leaders and members of local civic organizations feel we’re facing a dilemma when it comes to the issue. Some are wondering who will fill their shoes.

This made me curious. Are we really facing a serious lack of future leaders? Or is tomorrow’s generation just as involved but in different ways? What about voting, serving on jury duty, staying informed and other civic duties?

Guest Writer

Rachel Karl is the founder and CEO of Suite 4, a full-service marketing agency located in downtown McMinnville. She lives in McMinnville with her husband. They celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this year and have three children—a 19-year-old son who graduated from the Delphian school in 2014 and is working in Hollywood in the film industry, and two daughters, 14 and 8, who currently attend Delphian.

An Associated Press-GfK poll found that the younger generation would rather sort clothes at a shelter, spend eight hours at a soup kitchen or give out blankets to the homeless. However, their commitment to other civic duties — such as serving on a jury and staying informed has sharply declined from their parents’ generation. In spite of living with information at their fingertips, millennials simply don’t stay up-to-date on the real issues surrounding them. Although they say voting is important, only 36 percent actually show up to polls.

Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin, who studies civic engagement, sees little hope that volunteering will lead to a strong return to political participation and other civic virtues.

Contrary to Zukin’s beliefs, the AP-GfK poll found there are, in fact, positive signs to indicate experience gained while volunteering does lead more young people to other civic roles, such as banding together to solve local problems, following national issues or joining political parties.

When I look around our area, I see an astonishing number of young leaders. They include a city council woman, a man spearheading an annual music festival, another man leading the City Club and a woman helping to revitalize our historic downtown by educating people on the history and culture of our town, as well as taking an active involvement in attracting more visitors to McMinnville in general because she cares about our local economy. All of these people are under 40, and I’m only mentioning a few off the top of my head. I know there are many more.

Shall we look deeper? In my company, there are eleven of us. Out of this number, one is a Baby Boomer and all the rest are millennials except for me. I’m a “Gen X’er.”

Our Boomer is extremely active in her community and donates a lot of her time to many different groups and causes, including her church. She’s well-educated and keeps up on politics, but is disillusioned with big government. She votes in major elections, not minor ones.

The millennials who work for me are less involved in civic roles and more involved in volunteering at their church or for causes they care about. Two were willing to share their opinions about this subject.

Twenty-two-year-old female: My interest in politics is very low. I love volunteering and helping others. I think civic responsibilities are just that, a responsibility, not really an option. So as far as jury duty I don’t have any ill feelings toward it. It’s a part of how our government and legal systems work and I’m not going to protest against that.

I try to vote in all elections, but since my interest isn’t in politics, I usually don’t know much about what I’m voting for. So if I don’t have time to research or talk to people about the issues and candidates, sometimes I don’t vote.

Twenty-five-year-old male: I have very little involvement in politics as I have no desire to hold public office, but am an active voter. I try to educate myself as much as possible. Volunteering in the community is very important and we all have a civic responsibility to treat one another with respect and kindness, to help your fellow neighbor, and do no harm.

I have not volunteered for a political campaign, but I do for nonprofit organizations. Jury duty is an important aspect of our justice system. However, people have responsibility toward their jobs as well, and jury duty can negatively affect them and they have to take paid time off when it should be provided by the government. If the government requires individuals to be present for jury duty when called, then they should pay them adequately for their time. Yes, I vote. Every election is important no matter how big or small.

Then there’s me: I am fairly involved in my community, but not nearly as involved as I’d like to be or as involved as some of my peers are. As far as my civic duties go, I sit on the Community Choices committee under the city council. I take an interest in politics and like to have a 50-foot view of what’s happening in the world around me, but don’t have time to dive too deep.

I always vote in every election because I firmly believe every vote does count. In the last 12 months, I went on a ride-along with McMinnville’s finest, toured our local jail, met the sheriff, the Chief of Police and the DA. I toured the juvenile detention facility, police station and fire department. I have seen behind the scenes at our waste management and recycling facilities and toured the water reclamation facility. How or why did I do all of these things in one year? I was “forced” to because I signed up for the Leadership Mac program through our Chamber of Commerce. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it “forced” me to get more involved in our town on a deeper level.

I don’t have a clear answer to where tomorrow’s leaders are, but here’s what I do know: Today’s younger generation is more serious about giving back than their parents were and they consider it a social obligation. With one caveat: volunteering seems to be where it’s at for them. In general, they want to make their world a better place in which to live — but they don’t want to commit to any one civic group just yet.

Perhaps the best way to make sure leadership roles are filled tomorrow is to encourage volunteering today. As parents, we can take our children with us when we volunteer and explain the who and the why of it. Schools today not only encourage global citizenship opportunities, many of them require it. As business leaders, we can and should encourage our cohorts and employees to volunteer — even creating special incentives in the workplace to encourage volunteering has been shown to draw out future leaders. One executive at A-dec in Newberg once told me that the company has a policy where they always have someone in Rotary (both sunrise and noon slots). If someone retires, that spot gets filled immediately with another employee in the company. Not a bad idea.

As a great man once said, “Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t even have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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