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It’s nearly impossible to find a silver lining in events like Hurricane Sandy. But the outpouring of volunteers from the affected communities and around the country who pulled together after the storm to do anything from running shelters, to feeding the displaced, to mucking and gutting homes revealed the heart of a caring nation.

One year ago, Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction in its wake across six states, doing the most damage in heavily populated areas of New Jersey and New York. The recovery that followed – and even continues to this day -- required a massive response and thousands of national service members joined their fellow Americans to answer the call for help.

Is it possible to effectively harness youthful enthusiasm and idealism and turn it into it a renewable resource for good? We think so. Twenty years ago, President Clinton signed a bill that created AmeriCorps and gave our country a new outlet for national service that did just that.

A few years ago, a young teenager named Chris was living the street life in Austin, Texas, a high school dropout dealing drugs and facing bleak prospects for the future. While spending time at a juvenile detention center, two Senior Corps volunteers offered Chris love, support, and consistent finger-wagging, encouraging him to take his life in a new direction. Today, thanks to AmeriCorps, Chris has graduated from high school, gained valuable work skills, and found his passion in life -- becoming a wildland firefighter.

By Valerie Jarrett, Neil Bush, and Michelle Nunn  

The first immigrants to America came seeking freedom, but they survived -- and, in time, came to thrive -- because of their determination and because of each other. They valued self-reliance, but in times of strife they also knew could rely on neighbors, friends, sometimes even strangers to offer a helping hand.

That neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit is woven into the DNA of the American spirit. It defines in a very real sense who we are as a people.

It also unites us.

Have you ever had one of those days where you can't stop smiling? This month was filled with them. Support for national service grows stronger and stronger; during the past two weeks, we've seen this momentum build in several major arenas. Here's the latest news:

This week, I had the opportunity to speak at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service here in Washington, DC. Sponsored by Points of Light, the conference is the world’s largest annual gathering of volunteering and service leaders and supporters. I also announced that President Obama and the First Lady will host a celebration at the White House, on July 15, 2013, in honor of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light award.

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado struck my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly every resident was affected. The tornado destroyed approximately 18,000 vehicles, 7,000 homes, 5,000 businesses, and took the lives of 162 people, including two of my high school classmates.

Six months ago, Hurricane Sandy struck communities all along the East Coast. In the aftermath of this devastating super storm, AmeriCorps and national service members trained in disaster response are proving to be a valuable and cost-efficient resource for America as they help victims and survivors begin to rebuild their lives.

Disasters like Hurricane Sandy not only cause physical damage, but they can leave confusion and anger in their wake for weeks and months. So it must have surprised FEMA Corps Team Leader Cassie Murray to be declared “an angel” only a few hours after she was angrily confronted by one of the storm's survivors.

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