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By Valerie Jarrett, Neil Bush, and Michelle Nunn  

The first immigrants to America came seeking freedom, but they survived -- and, in time, came to thrive -- because of their determination and because of each other. They valued self-reliance, but in times of strife they also knew could rely on neighbors, friends, sometimes even strangers to offer a helping hand.

That neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit is woven into the DNA of the American spirit. It defines in a very real sense who we are as a people.

It also unites us.

 

That unity was on vivid display this Monday when President Obama welcomed the man who launched the modern service movement, President George H. W. Bush, back to the White House to honor the recipients of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light award. Together, they lauded Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hammer of Union, Iowa, for stepping up to fight hunger and improve the lives of children worldwide.

Nearly 10 years ago, Hamilton and Hammer participated in a volunteer mission to Tanzania to help renovate an HIV/AIDS hospital there. Startled by the starvation they saw, the couple started Outreach, Inc., which has engaged thousands of volunteers in packaging and distributing 230 million free meals to children in more than 15 countries, including the United States.

Their story is a simple one: Two people decided that they simply had to do something. Telling that story, day in and day out, is what the Daily Point of Light Award is all about.

President Bush was the first president in U.S. history to institute a daily presidential recognition program from the White House, conferring 1,020 Daily Point of Light Awards between 1990 and 1993. And President Bush helped launch a nonprofit – Points of Light – that has become the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service.

While he didn't originate the notion of helping our fellow man, he reasserted it as a national priority and insisted that "there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others."

President Obama built on this commitment to service when he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009, which will increase the size of AmeriCorps from 75,000 volunteers to 250,000 by 2017. In 2012, the President created the FEMA Corps program, which established a FEMA-dedicated unit of AmeriCorps members to work solely on disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts -- and he launched the Serve.gov platform to make it easier for Americans to find and post local volunteer opportunities. 

On Monday, the White House also announced plans to establish an interagency task force led by the Corporation for National and Community Service to develop strategies to expand national service to meet national needs through collaboration with other Federal agencies.

This historic event, then, brought together two Presidents and families united in their commitment to expand volunteerism and service – an issue with a long history of strong bipartisan support. While other critical issues can be attended by sharper debate, that bipartisan support for service is durable and enduring.

Today, America faces both challenges and opportunities in forming "a more perfect Union," but that same spirit of selflessness which has sustained us from our earliest days is as strong as ever.

As Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hammer show in such a wonderful and compassionate way, you don't have to be a President to be a leader -- and you don't have to be a First Lady to make a difference in the life of your fellowman. All you have to do is open your heart to the need around you, and then do something about it.

Get started by:

  • Tweeting about a point of light in your life, using the hashtag #mypointoflight.
  • Finding an opportunity to volunteer in your community at www.serve.gov.
  • Nominating someone you know for a Daily Point of Light Award at www.pointsoflight.org/dailypointoflight

This post originally appeared on the White House Blog. Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. Neil Bush is the Chairman of Points of Light. Michelle Nunn is the CEO of Points of Light.

 

Keywords: FEMACorps, George H.W. Bush, Points of Light, Serve America Act, United We Serve, volunteering, White House
The 2014 Martin Luther King Day of Service is a little more than a month away, and now is the time to order materials to promote the event and join Americans across the nation who will be volunteering in their communities.
As she attended classes in the California Bay Area, Naomi Shachter was struck by AmeriCorps’ ability to transform the lives of students in her high school. AmeriCorps members served as mentors, advocates, teachers, and friends. “I saw what a big difference service in the community could make,” she said.
Today Americans are remembering the legacy of President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Many in the national service family were inspired by his life, and his legacy lives on through AmeriCorps VISTA, one of the anti-poverty programs he envisioned before his untimely death.
When President Obama announced the Task Force on Expanding National Service in July, he asked federal agencies to work together to create a pipeline for national service participants to apply the skills they learned in the federal sector. Last week, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced new guidance from that will affect past, current, and future AmeriCorps members and other national service participants.
As you are undoubtedly aware, the impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines has been astonishing. The typhoon has caused widespread damage, including landslides and flooding, and is expected to claim the lives of thousands.
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.
National service comes in many shapes and sizes. Tens of thousands of men and women answer the call to join the Armed Forces each year, and quickly find themselves inundated with the unique demands and expectations of their respective military branches. Many others choose to serve via Peace Corps or AmeriCorps programs, which offer their own unique challenges, not dissimilar from the military. I have had the unique experience of serving in both and have come to believe in the value of both.
James Randall “Randy” Hindert served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a Sergeant from 1967-1970. Recently, he began serving our nation again, this time in the local community as a tutor for AmeriCorps at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties in Florida.
He spent 10 years stationed in Fort Bragg, NC; two years in Italy; and more than one year in Iraq. Now his service continues here, on the homefront, as he helps save lives and rebuild communities.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is committed to providing opportunities that change the lives of those who serve, as well as those being served. With this commitment, we can create avenues for people with disabilities to greater economic opportunity through the service experience in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
It’s nearly impossible to find a silver lining in events like Hurricane Sandy. But the outpouring of volunteers from the affected communities and around the country who pulled together after the storm to do anything from running shelters, to feeding the displaced, to mucking and gutting homes revealed the heart of a caring nation.
While Hurricane Sandy showed nature at its worst, the response showed human nature at its best.  The courage and resilience of survivors was an inspiration to the nation. And the outpouring of compassion by volunteers from the local community and across the nation has been critical to the region’s recovery.    
Last week, Veronica Boda returned to her Brigantine, NJ, home to pick up her favorite blankets. This weekend, she’ll go back to sort through winter clothes. Veronica is one of many survivors of Hurricane Sandy still struggling to adjust to life after last year’s storm.
When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast last year, areas that rarely saw a storm of that magnitude discovered what it was like to live through a disaster. Experiences like this reinforce what it really means to say that we’re all in this together.
“In the month and a half my team was in New York, the progress I witnessed was absolutely incredible. Although we all were frequently exhausted by the various assignments we had been given each day, it truly makes it all worth it when you can step back and realize that you've played even a small part in such a huge recovery effort.”  -- FEMA Corps member Elizabeth McSherry
One year ago, Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction in its wake across six states, doing the most damage in heavily populated areas of New Jersey and New York. The recovery that followed – and even continues to this day -- required a massive response and thousands of national service members joined their fellow Americans to answer the call for help.
On a late September afternoon sprinkled with snow flurries, eight young adults in mud-streaked protective bodysuits and breathing masks installed blankets of insulation to the underside of a weather-worn cabin in the Alaskan Bush.
Each day, thousands of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps national service members devote themselves to service that directly impacts the lives of children around the country. Whether it is teaching kids how to make healthy food choices, working with them on educational skills, or helping families rebuild after a disaster, national service is there.  
On Saturday, PBS stations across the country aired programming to highlight solutions to the nation’s high school dropout crisis during the second American Graduate Day. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) joined our partners at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and WNET in New York in support of the effort.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recognized seven outstanding programs and participants with the 2013 National Service Impact Awards.
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.
Americans from around the country commemorated the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks with prayer, reflection, and remembrance.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are participating in volunteer service activities today to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary on the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) leads the annual effort to pay tribute to and honor the victims and heroes of 9/11 through service.
Twelve years ago this month, nearly three thousand innocent men, women, and children lost their lives in attacks meant to terrorize our Nation. They had been going about their day, harming no one, when sudden violence struck. We will never undo the pain and injustice borne that terrible morning, nor will we ever forget those we lost.
Each September, Americans pause to remember the 9/11 victims and survivors, and the responders who defined courage in the aftermath of the attacks.
To strengthen our communities, we have to break down the barriers that can discourage Americans from building a better life for themselves and their families. Whether these barriers to economic opportunity are structural or behavioral, change is possible, and our AmeriCorps VISTAs are leading the way by creating partnerships that support service as a solution to our nation's challenges.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have A Dream speech. As the federal agency tasked with leading the annual day of service named in his honor, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) draws inspiration from a life that encouraged service to others.
This weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared in Parade Magazine and applauded the success of Let’s Move! Whether in school cafeterias or at the Kids' State Dinner, First Lady Michelle Obama has consistently promoted nutrition and getting active throughout her time at the White House. 
It’s back-to-school time. In the upcoming weeks, children across the country will be asked this quintessential question: “What did you do this summer?”  The answer for nearly 3,000 Baltimore elementary students may surprise you.
As a part of the National Preparedness & Response Corps (NPRC), over 100 AmeriCorps members recently joined the ranks of the American Red Cross and will take positions in 21 chapters around the country to help communities be better prepared for disasters.

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