The Presidio, a former military post in San Francisco, is now home to a new kind of service academy. Instead of training people to protect the country, like the military academies that have long been a part of America’s history, this one will develop leadership skills for people involved in volunteerism and national service.
The new National Center for Service and Innovative Leadership has taken up residence in Fort Winfield Scott, a site in the Presidio, which is now a national park.
The center—set up by the Presidio Trust, a federal agency charged with preserving and repurposing the 1,491-acre site—will offer leadership training; bring together nonprofit, government, and business leaders for discussions; and establish a research program to highlight successful approaches to solving community problems.
The trust is working to rehabilitate the fort, which has 10 barracks buildings and a headquarters building and is in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Craig Middleton, the trust’s executive director, says it made that decision after consulting nonprofit leaders who said, “There needs to be a place that is recognized as the place that honors service because it’s a really important American value.”
He added: “We have academies for the Army and Air Force, and we celebrate that aspect of service, but there’s nothing for that more informal service, where you’re serving your community in various ways.”
The new National Center for Service and Innovative Leadership opened its first building last summer on a campus that will eventually include classrooms, offices, housing, and dining and recreation facilities.
The Presidio Trust has spent $15-million on capital improvements to the site but is seeking private money to complete the job. It is close to hiring a new executive director, who will be asked to lead a $50-million capital campaign, according to the job description.
Congress, which set up the trust in 1996, has been phasing out its federal allocation and will provide no money next year—under a plan that called for it to become self-sufficient after 15 years by leasing the buildings it is rehabilitating.
The agency has so far named 11 people to a 15-member federal advisory committee, which will hold its first meeting in October.
Members include Wendy Spencer, chief executive of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service; Karen Baker, California’s secretary of service and volunteering; leaders of nonprofits including AARP Experience Corps, America’s Promise Alliance, and City Year; and two business representatives.
Shirley Sagawa, a national-service expert who is advising the trust on the project, says the center will help volunteerism and national-service leaders who are looking for ways to stay innovative, adapt to rapid change, and “sustain” themselves.
“Many of these jobs are underresourced and very stressful,” she adds.