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Celebrating America's Greatest Asset: Our Volunteers

by Wendy Spencer

This post originally appeared on the White House blog, April 16, 2012.

It's an old saying and a profound truth that it is better to give than to receive. During National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, we celebrate the millions of Americans who volunteer and recognize the extraordinary benefits of service to individuals, communities, and our nation.

America always has had a strong spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. Since our earliest days, citizens have given generously of themselves to improve the lives of others. Today, over 64 million volunteers serve annually, strengthening the nation's safety net and providing hundreds of billions of dollars in vital services to our communities. They are doing hard but necessary work: tutoring and mentoring youth, assisting seniors who live independently, supporting veterans and military families, helping communities recover from disasters, and so much more.

As a lifelong volunteer – and a dedicated volunteer coordinator - I know the power of citizens in action. In 2004 and 2005, after a series of storms hit my home state of Florida, we saw an extraordinary outpouring of compassion: more than 250,000 volunteers came to assist in the recovery effort.

Though volunteers aren't looking for recognition or reward, they learn the timeless lesson of service: when you help others, you also help yourself. Volunteering is a way to gain experience, sharpen skills and build valuable social and professional networks. It's a pathway to jobs, education, and other career-building opportunities.

Today, service is helping veterans transition back to civilian life, giving persons with disabilities a chance to reach their full potential, and empowering people from low-income backgrounds to improve their lives. Volunteering is helping people from all backgrounds demonstrate the dedication, accountability, and character that every business and organization looks for in a future employee.

Volunteering also creates the types of active, engaged citizens that our democracy needs. Research shows that people who volunteer are more likely to get involved in groups, stay current on news, participate in elections, and work with their neighbors to solve problems.

It's amazing that a single act can go such a long way, but that is why volunteering is so fundamental to our nation's well-being and who we are as Americans. Throughout the week, the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation will use this blog to highlight how volunteering expands opportunity for volunteers and the people and communities they serve.

During National Volunteer Week, as we celebrate the extraordinary contributions of volunteers, let us also redouble our efforts to engage Americans in serving their communities. A great place to start is Serve.gov, where you can find a local volunteer opportunity that fits your interests.

As President Obama stated in his Presidential Proclamationon National Volunteer Week 2012, “With every hour and every act, our lives are made richer, our communities are drawn closer, and our country is forged stronger by the dedication and generous spirit of volunteers. I encourage every American to stand up and play their part – to put their shoulder up against the wheel and help change history's course.”

Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Follow her on Twitter @WendyatCNCS.

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