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Service to Country, Service to Others

by Wendy Spencer

Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake and the Corporation for National and Community Service teamed up with more than 125 veterans, active duty military, and AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members to help build and rehabilitate homes in Annapolis and Baltimore, MD, in March 2011. (Corporation for National and Community Service photo)

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.

Our first President has been on my mind since I spent a day touring Mount Vernon just outside the nation’s capital. It’s a great place to get the total picture of a Founding Father whose path to greatness was not always the smoothest.

Like Washington’s army, the modern military is built with men and women from disparate locales and backgrounds united for a single purpose. The sacrifices they have made for our nation are innumerable; the value of their service is impossible to quantify. Thankfully, we can pause on Veterans Day to try to express our gratitude.

Now as then, we need these military heroes to continue to share their gifts with their communities when they come home, and we are proud that many have chosen national service as an outlet for their energies. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has committed to making an impact with veterans and military families, whether it is through a veteran’s service, or service to veterans and their families.

Senior Corps RSVP volunteers work on a home renovation project. (Corporation for National and Community Service photo)Army veteran David Gosling returned to the service arena when he needed an outlet to continue working with high-impact people like those he met first as a soldier and later as a State Trooper. He found what he was looking for serving in AmeriCorps VISTA, making sacrifices while working on projects that led to his current position at Got Your 6, a group that works to bridge the civilian-military divide.

Hard work has been a way of life for Silas Barnes, a highly decorated Marine Corps veteran who also served in the Civilian Conservation Corps.  At 91, an age when many would embrace retirement with gusto, Barnes is still serving others through Senior Corps RSVP and spending two days a week building wheelchair access ramps to help disabled people reach the outside world and “sit in the sunshine.”

The Air Force was TaQuoya Kennedy’s home for eight years, and her assignments as a special agent took her around the world. During her travels, she witnessed many hardships she couldn’t respond to and still perform her duties. But seeing a veteran digging in the trash for food planted a seed that led her to serve in AmeriCorps at a food pantry for and run by veterans at a VA hospital in Chicago. She is helping the pantry work toward a goal of serving 1,000 veterans there by 2014.

This month, CNCS is recognizing the contributions of veterans to our national service programs as we continue our celebration of AmeriCorps’ 20th Anniversary, and salute those serving through Senior Corps and with our grantees across the nation.  We are also working to expand service opportunities throughout the public and private sectors via President Obama’s Task Force on Expanding National Service, which I co-chair with Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

The idea of our soldiers returning home and continuing their service is as old as our nation itself. We are proud to stand beside our veterans and learn as they show us how to lead by placing others first.

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

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