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Wendy Spencer

Our nation is more health-conscious and health-aware than ever, but for many there are still obstacles – an untreated disease, obesity, or lack of healthy food -- that prevent them from living their lives to the fullest. That needs to change, and our AmeriCorps members are working to make that happen every day.

Iowa can add another “first-in-the-nation” jewel to its crown with today’s announcement by Governor Terry Branstad of the creation of the Governor’s Council on National Service in Iowa.

Whenever the talk begins about our nation making quality education a priority, it’s no surprise that some may be cynical. After all, we have too many children entering school unprepared, too many falling behind early, and too many dropping out before graduation. Why can’t we change this story? The truth is, we can – and we are.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to improving the world in which he lived—and challenged the rest of us to do the same. He not only championed the equal rights but also equal access to economic opportunity for all Americans. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will honor his legacy as hundreds of thousands of Americans pay tribute by serving their communities on Monday, Jan. 20.

In Gen. George Washington’s farewell orders to the Continental Army, he encouraged the soldiers who united in battle to not only maintain their bond as a “patriotic band of Brothers” but to carry forward the virtues they had learned during military service when they returned home. His wisdom still rings true today, as we see example after example of our soldiers continuing to serve their communities after their military commitments end.

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.

America is a nation of volunteers. Results from our annual Volunteering in America survey show how willing our friends and neighbors are to lend a helping hand. More than 64 million Americans volunteer each year, strengthening the nation’s safety net and providing vital services to our communities.

This Thanksgiving, as we gather with loved ones and give thanks for the blessings in our lives, let us also commit to share those blessings through service to others.

This weekend was a major moment for national service, and I want to share some of the many highlights that inspired me.

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