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Serving Together, as One America

by Valerie Jarrett

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.

This year’s conference theme, “Service Unites,” highlights how serving communities can bring together people from all backgrounds.

During his inaugural address in 1989, President George H.W. Bush called on all Americans to work together for the good of their country. He described his vision of a thousand points of light in our communities spreading like stars throughout the nation, each doing good.

In response to President Bush’s call, Points of Light was created. Today, over 4 million volunteers serve their communities through Points of Light.

As President Obama said during the 20th anniversary of Points of Light, “In the end, service binds us to each other-- and to our communities and our country-- in a way that nothing else can. That's how we become more fully American. It's always been the case in this country -- that notion that we invest ourselves, our time, our energy, our vision, our purpose into the very fabric of this nation. That's the essence of our liberty-- that we give back, freely.”

From donating food for the hungry, to supporting organizations that strengthen our communities, to leading efforts to care for our military families, to providing vital aid to victims of national disasters, to tutoring children and adults, and in countless other ways, volunteers make our country better.

To support their good work, President Obama signed the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 in his first 100 days in office, to create opportunities for more Americans to serve, and to focus national service on issues of national importance, such as disaster response, economic opportunity and education.

He did this because the President knows that national service can be an effective solution to our toughest challenges, and it can make a meaningful impact on communities in need. National service can also expand opportunities for those that serve by providing them with skills and helping them pursue higher education and jumpstart their careers. In fact, a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) found that volunteers have a 27 percent higher likelihood of finding a job than non-volunteers.

Today, we are proud of the work that has stemmed from President Obama’s commitment to expanding national service, including most recently:

  • FEMA Corps, which is a new partnership between CNCS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which created 1,600 new national service positions dedicated to disaster preparedness, relief and response activities. FEMA Corps members have been deployed around the country in response to disasters such as the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri; Hurricane Sandy; and the recent severe storms in Oklahoma.
  • School Turnaround AmeriCorps, which is a new partnership between CNCS and the Department of Education that created 650 national service positions to help improve 60 of our nation’s lowest performing schools.
  • STEM AmeriCorps, which is a new program that will devote 50 national service members to increasing interest in STEM education among high school students in low income communities.

I am so inspired by the nearly 65 million Americans who volunteer on a regular basis. Through teamwork, leadership, and generosity, volunteers show us that anything is possible when people come together to solve problems and serve their communities.

Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls. This post originally appeared on the White House Blog on June, 21, 2013.

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