By Ryan Maher
The work of public service may take many forms. Josh Fryday (ΦBK, UC Berkeley) can say that his new job takes this truism literally. Effective September 1, he became Chief Service Officer for the state of California. His position oversees California Volunteers, the state office that promotes and coordinates the activities of service and volunteer programs like AmeriCorps.
“Every part of my career, starting with my education at Berkeley and focus on political science, even the student activism I did [there], was geared toward service, engagement, and trying to find ways to make our democracy stronger and work better,” Fryday said.
After receiving his law degree from UC Berkeley’s School of Law, Fryday labored in an eclectic mix of service-oriented positions.
He served as a US Navy lieutenant, employing his law degree as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (commonly known as JAG). Among his assignments was his representation of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, about which he testified before Congress in 2013 as part of a panel on the facility’s closure.
Fryday has also taken prominent roles in nonprofits. He worked with NextGen Climate Action, a political action committee that aims to support candidates to address climate change. Before his appointment to the role of Chief Service Officer, he was the president of Golden State Opportunity, which seeks to aid low-income Californians in claiming public benefits. He oversaw the organization’s successful efforts to expand California’s earned income tax credit (Cal EITC) both to a wider age demographic and among different types of employment.
Add to this his work as a political organizer for the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, and as a city councilmember and mayor of the City of Novato, and Fryday rounds out an impressive package of experiences in representative government, advocacy, and executive leadership. All of which attracted the attention of California Governor Gavin Newsom, who explained Fryday’s appointment in a July 12 statement, “Josh is a leader with a lifelong commitment to service and will be an invaluable partner as we work to increase service and volunteerism in California.”
As head of California Volunteers, Fryday now has the responsibility to administer volunteer organizations that operate in the state. Among the programs that fall under his office’s jurisdiction are AmeriCorps and Disaster Corps. He assumes his position in the wake of Governor Newsom’s declaration of a state of emergency in March, in anticipation of California’s notorious wildfire season. In an effort to bolster preparedness, California Volunteers joined with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to award $50 million in grants to communities with otherwise limited financial means.
The increasing complexity and severity of the state’s environmental problems demand a corresponding need for the efficient administration of resources to meet those problems. Josh Fryday’s wide-ranging education provided him with a foundation from which he could operate in positions as varied as lawyer, advocate, executive, and public servant. He commented of his liberal arts education, “[It] played a significant role in my life, [allowing me to] accomplish all the things that I’ve been able to do to date.”
As for the role of the liberal arts and sciences today, he said, “Especially in a changing media environment and a tumultuous political environment, it’s more important than ever that people have context in understanding the world [and have] the ability to analyze it rationally and with perspective.”
Ryan Maher is a recent graduate of UC San Diego, having studied history, literature, and German. He was inducted into the Sigma of California chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 2018. He is currently developing himself as a writer of nonfiction and fiction.