Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg Wednesday unveiled his plan in Sioux City to expand the number of paid service opportunities around the country. He said doing this could unite people in a nation where "democracy is struggling a little bit."
Buttigieg said he wants to create a system of 1 million national service opportunities for high school graduates by 2026 to fill a growing interest in service positions that exceeds the 75,000 available opportunities.
In the immediate-term, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, wants to increase the number of service opportunities to 250,000 around the country that are part of organizations like AmeriCorps. His plan targets mostly high school students, but also includes students from community colleges, vocational schools and historically black colleges and universities. It would consider forgiving student debt for people who participate in service.
At a town hall in Sioux City, Buttigieg said there's a hunger to serve and the country needs to expand opportunities to meet it.
"We'll know we've succeeded when the first question you get for a young person applying for a job or applying to college is not just, 'Where are you from?', but, 'Where did you serve? What was it like? Who did you meet and what did you learn?'," Buttigieg said. "When we do that, when we bring together Americans from every walk of life, we will be repairing the fabric of our nation."
Buttigieg is a military veteran. He served in Afghanistan in 2014. He drew on his own service experience, saying he wants to create a sense of unity like he felt in the military
"Biggest thing I learned was how to put my faith in people who were completely different from me," he said. "The military that I was part of drew on people from every part of the country: People with different views, different backgrounds, it was the most racially-integrated organization I've ever been part of…"
He talked about laying out his proposal in Iowa because of the large number of service opportunities around the state. He later singled out the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Iowa, which mobilized volunteers from across the state to help people in Marshalltown replace broken windows and drywall in their homes after a tornado devastated the city last July.
"It's what Iowans do, it's what Americans do, and seeing that spirit of service I am optimistic for our future," Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg's national service plan also includes creating grant funding for cities so they can host service opportunities for local and regional issues. The plan emphasizes rural areas and communities of color, "which are too often neglected in national service efforts," according to the proposal on Buttigieg's campaign website.
The plan resonated with Jessica Kratz of Sioux City. Kratz, 18, just graduated high school, and said she has been looking into joining the Peace Corps, possibly after she graduates college. Kratz said she has participated in a lot of service projects through 4-H.
"It's something I've really come to love doing," Kratz said.
She said she's been wanting to do more service projects.
"I like that with Pete [Buttigieg's] campaign, he's including more of that and making it more accessible to people my age," she said.
Buttigieg said he plans to meet with local service leaders on the campaign trail.