Maryland Gov. Wes Moore spoke to an audience of program members at the University of Maryland’s Reckord Armory Friday for the launch of his service year option program.
Maryland’s Service Year Option program, which Moore proposed in February, provides young people ages 18 to 21 with a nine-month paid work and mentorship opportunity. The program is similar to Maryland Corps, a program created in 2016 that’s open to adults of all ages.
“We will ensure that our citizens develop skills and are willing to meet all of our society’s needs,” Moore said. “We are going to address the challenges that our communities are facing, and we will do it with our heads held high and our chests full.”
Other leaders joined Moore at the Armory on Friday to emphasize the importance of service during the launch event, including Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller and university president Darryll Pines.
In April, Moore signed the Serving Every Region Through Vocational Exploration Act of 2023, which created the service year option program. Young people in the program will be paid a $6,000 stipend or tuition contribution and will also receive a minimum of $15 an hour.
Organizations providing participants with service opportunities have a focus on community building and creating an impact for Maryland residents.
Jody Tick, Sunflower Bakery’s executive director, said she will employ two service program members. Sunflower Bakery is a non-profit that trains people with learning differences in pastry arts and hospitality.
Tick is hopeful the bakery will be a safe environment for participants to make mistakes and learn, she said.
“You can imagine the impact that this is going to have on us, to be able to grow and evolve our work and to be able to provide a wonderful experience for these participants,” Tick said.
Participants from the service year program and Maryland Corps also spoke Friday about the opportunities the programs will provide them.
Briana Whitehurst, a 19-year-old service year option program member from Baltimore, will work with Parks and People, an environmental education program in Baltimore. Whitehurst wants to help children and teenagers through this role, they said.
“I feel like there was a huge gap in learning since the lockdown [and] COVID,” Whitehurst said. “I want to help bridge that gap.”
Truth Burney, a 23-year-old Maryland Corps member from Carroll County, said she wants to use the skills she learns in her upcoming work for the Community Law Center to build a foundation for a potential legal career.
“I did not have that background, fresh out of college. I didn’t really have a background in legal work, and this will better prepare me to get those jobs,” Burney said.
Miller said the service year opportunity will lead to a ripple effect, changing the life trajectories of both participants and others who are impacted by their service.
She cited an example from her childhood, when her family collected monetary relief for people affected by a natural disaster in India.
“They all gave generously, they gave change, but they made change, change that impacted the lives of people that they’d never met,” Miller said. “Change that set me on a path to serve others.”
Moore also highlighted how he hopes the program will bring Marylanders together regardless of divisions like political differences.
“We are calling on all of our fellow Marylanders to get to know each other again,” Moore said. “We will restore the spirit of community.”