By Josh Fryday
Millennials have seen their lives defined by big crises: from 9/11, to the Great Recession, to the impacts of climate change, and now COVID-19. As we face living through our second “once in a generation” economic collapse, Millennials are realizing that how we get through this current crisis will not just shape the rest of our lives, but the lives of generations that follow us.
Our generation now has a common purpose: a shared mission to defeat COVID-19. But what may not be as clear is how each of us can make a difference.
We don’t need to look far for guidance. Millennials should draw inspiration from another generation whose early lives were defined by hardship. Like us, the Greatest Generation lived through financial collapses and attacks on our country, but it’s their response to those monumental challenges that are particularly instructive.
The Greatest Generation asked how they could serve their community and country. In peace and then war, they volunteered to serve overseas in the armed forces or as workers on the home front. Crucially, they maintained this spirit of civic engagement, a culture of service and volunteerism, that lasted long after the last shred of confetti fell in the ticker tape parade.
The veterans who returned home from World War II became active volunteers in everything from Little League to civil rights and created the Peace Corps for others to serve. They weren’t perfect, but they understood the power of a culture that honors service. The same power I experienced as an officer in the Navy, where people of all backgrounds, beliefs, races and religions work together to accomplish great things.
Now, America finds itself in another fight of the century, a fight that calls Millennials to service like nothing before. Millennials must take up the mantle of leadership and defeat COVID-19 through serving their communities — and then go beyond the moment to create a lasting legacy of civic engagement.
In California, we are seeing the results of incredible collective sacrifice and civic responsibility to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. Now, we need help from every healthy Californian to step up and protect our most vulnerable communities.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has launched #CaliforniansForAll to connect people with opportunities to serve in their own communities. These opportunities range from donating time at a local food bank, to making face coverings, to checking on our neighbors, to even just encouraging others to stay indoors and practice physical distancing. Be a part of #CaliforniansForAll to find a way to participate in the organizations that are the backbone of our response to this crisis or create your own plan to serve if you recognize a better way to help others.
No matter how you choose to participate, recognize that this is a generational moment, and it’s our turn to meet it and take the lead. Lead on the solution. Lead on building our communities. Lead on creating the society we want to live in post pandemic. If we continue to sacrifice and serve one another to meet this challenge, our generation will have cultivated a civic spirit that will carry us forward into a new society defined by community, common purpose and connection.
We need you, and we need each other.
(Josh Fryday is from Novato and California’s chief service officer. Visit CaliforniansForAll.ca.gov for more information.)