Building Bridges of Another Kind in Maryland

Taking a gap year, or devoting a year to public service, whether to develop yourself or to serve a higher purpose, can be very alluring and, just as often, very impractical: How do you find the right opportunity, or fit it into your life, and most of all, swing it financially?

Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland is trying to find a way to make it work for more people.

One of the centerpieces of his administration is the newly established Department of Service and Civic Innovation, which includes a public service program with two arms, the Service Year Option, for Maryland residents within three years of high school graduation, and Maryland Corps, which is open to a range of applicants. Each provides access to entry-level positions at nonprofits and state agencies, as well as a small number of businesses with a strong service component, such as public health or community development. Participants are paid a minimum of $15 per hour and provided help with transportation and child care, which could otherwise keep out those with fewer support systems. At the end of the minimum nine-month term, all participants get a $6,000 stipend toward college or to cash out for a down payment on a car, for example, or a home.

Right now, the program is tiny. Next week, the Maryland Assembly will vote on whether to include a $13 million expansion of both programs in the state budget to increase the number of participants from 200 a year to 500, with a target of 2,000 Service Year participants by 2026.

The timing might not seem great, at a moment of budgetary constraints and in the wake of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore harbor, but that’s not how Moore sees it.

“I will defend the return on this investment any day of the week,” he said when I spoke to him earlier this week. “This is the kind of program that gives people such hope and inspiration. I really do believe in the idea that service will save us, especially at a moment like now.”

I’d like to think he’s right. The goal of Maryland Corps and Service Year is to strengthen community ties, motivate and train Maryland residents and better equip them for their futures.

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