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The Power of Service

by Wendy Spencer

In recent days, we have witnessed remarkable acts of courage and compassion in the wake of tragedy.

From the first responders in Boston who ran into danger to treat the wounded, to the volunteers who built floodwalls to save their Midwestern towns, to the firefighters who rushed in to battle a raging fire in West, Texas, citizens came together to help when it was needed most.

Time and again, we have seen the courage and heroism of first responders and ordinary citizens after tragedy strikes.

An AmeriCorps team leader serves alongside a National Guard member and a community volunteer in response to flooding in Clarksville, MO.

I'm proud that more than 60 Senior Corps volunteers from the Heart of Texas RSVP and 20 AmeriCorps members from the Texas Conservation Corps have been serving in West, distributing food, coordinating volunteers, managing donations, and more. AmeriCorps members have played a key role in battling rising floodwaters in Missouri, and in comforting students in Boston schools.

National service and volunteerism show the best of the American spirit – people turning toward problems instead of away, working together to find community solutions. That is the spirit we celebrate during National Volunteer Week. And what a week it has been:

  • On Monday, President Obama announced STEM AmeriCorps, a multi-year initiative to spur student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. By strengthening STEM education for students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, AmeriCorps will build ladders of opportunity for these students and help our nation compete for the jobs of the future.
  • On Wednesday, I testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about the unique role national service plays in supporting veterans and military families. Our commitment is twofold: We serve them, and we ask them to serve with us. Both strategies have tremendous results. Last year, AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers served about 1.5 million veterans and military family members, and more than 27,000 veterans served in our programs. Later that day, the White House honored 17 Hurricane Sandy “Champions of Change” for their innovative responses to support disaster survivors, including a member of AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps.
  • Yesterday, two AmeriCorps members were honored with Make A Difference Day Awards by USA Weekend magazine. Christina Escobar, an AmeriCorps member serving with the Red Cross in Washington state, developed Operation Lorax, which enlisted volunteers to plant 1,000 trees to help restore part of forest destroyed by a fire. And Shaquawana Wester, an AmeriCorps member who serves with the Cookeville Housing Authority's Teens Need Training program in Tennessee, led a coat drive that collected 1,000 winter coats.
  • Today, I joined Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee and 130 AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers for a day of service in the city of the Super Bowl Champions. Mayor Lee came to Baltimore to make good on his Super Bowl bet by spending a day revitalizing vacant lots, renovating a police station, and reading to third graders at an area school.

Service changes lives. It provides enormous economic and social value to our nation. And it unites us as one people.

As President Obama said in his National Volunteer Week proclamation, “We are home to more than 300 million people who come from every background, practice every faith, and hold every point of view. But where difference could draw us apart, we are bound together by a single sacred word: citizen.”

This week, as we pay tribute to America's volunteers, we recognize their impact on tough challenges. Let us also thank them for uniting us a country, and reminding us of our duties as citizens.

Wendy Spencer is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

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