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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
At 58, Dyann Brown of Rochester, New York found herself in early retirement after a long career in nonprofit management. Seeking to reflect principles rooted in her faith, Brown sought to share her talents and resources with her community.
Shrinking budgets are creating new holes in support services for our most vulnerable citizens at a time when their needs are growing. At the same time, many in the largest and most-influential generation are at a stage in their lives where they are looking for ways to give back. It's almost a perfect storm of supply meeting demand
This week, communities across the nation are taking part in Senior Corps Week, an annual event designed to celebrate the powerful impact of Senior Corps volunteers and encourage more Americans 55+ to give back.
There are people working every day at all levels – and across all sectors – to improve our communities and find lasting and sustainable solutions to expand opportunity for young people. We spoke with Judith Rodin, a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions, who has shown a commitment throughout her professional career for community solutions that support and cultivate the next generation.
3 Billion. That's the number of hours, on average, contributed by Americans aged 55 and older in service between 2008 and 2010. Some of these individuals serve with Senior Corps programs like RSVP while others may give back through local faith-based or community organizations, but all provide valuable human capital which communities in need are able to depend on.
Youth aren't waiting for the call to serve --they are ready to make their mark today. This last weekend, young people around the world celebrated Global Youth Service Day in 100 countries on six continents as children, teens, and young adults demonstrated why they are the most service-oriented generations ever.
While the economy continues to show signs of improvement, there are still many workers who are facing challenges in connecting to new careers. The Department of Labor has encouraged dislocated workers to pursue education and training to improve their skills and better position them to compete for employment opportunities. Many workers have taken advantage of these opportunities, but it is also important to lay a path forward for those workers who have not enrolled in training and seek other options to build their skills and increase their chances to find employment.
If you took a snapshot of Americans' volunteer service, what would it look like? What work would attract the most volunteers? Will Boomers be able to teach Millennials a thing or two about helping others? And should you look north, south, east, or west to find the state that spends the most doing it?
I was inspired early in life to try to make a mark on the world. And even though I'm a bit of a natural caretaker -- working as a lifeguard and even helping find jobs for folks suffering from traumatic brain injury -- meetings and organizations just weren't my style.
National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, is a chance for Americans to recognize the volunteers within their community. Here on the Serve.gov blog, that's exactly what we hope to do with our posts this week.Today, this Wordless Wednesday features photos of all kinds of volunteers. Do you have a favorite volunteering photo? Share it with us on the Facebook!
Good news. A recent LinkedIn survey found that 41 percent of professionals considered volunteer work as much as paid work when evaluating job candidates. Now here’s the bad news: Slightly less than half of the 89 percent who had volunteer experience included it on their resumes. That’s a mistake -- put your volunteer experience to work for you.
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.
On Monday, I joined the Corporation for National and Community Service as CEO. It’s been a great first week on the job.
Having just wrapped up National AmeriCorps Week, another big week for celebrating service is on the horizon: National Volunteer Week. Happening April 15-21, 2012, National Volunteer Week is an opportunity for nonprofit organizations and national service members and alumni to be recognized and celebrated for their efforts. It's also an opportunity of AmeriCorps Alums to tell their story of service, and shine a light on the value of national service in our nation.
Last year, 64.3 million Americans gave their time in service. These volunteers spent hours in schools and shelters, hospitals and hotlines, and faith-based and community-groups. They are the everyday heroes who show up day in, day out and make a difference for millions of women and men around the world.
Today, Wendy Spencer begins her first day as new Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service. While you'll hear more from Wendy in the coming weeks, we wanted to help you get to know her a bit better. Learn more about Wendy and the service experiences that shaped her life with this video below.
Every day, researchers, policymakers, teachers, counselors, and business leaders continue to make the case for the importance of earning a high school diploma and obtaining some post-secondary study. For young adults who drop out of high school, their options and future earning potential become extremely limited. Sadly, 1-in-6 young adults are completely isolated from school and work – and are less likely to become the independent, productive citizens needed to help our nation grow.
Everyone has a story, as the saying goes, and the Corporation for National and Community Service wants to hear ones about the most innovative leaders and programs that are making a difference in our communities. If you know of one, it's time to nominate them for the 2012 National Service Impact Awards.
These words sit at the heart of my father's tireless efforts to advocate for change. He believed that protection from the hazards of pesticides; fair wages and improved working conditions were not achievable if not founded upon an improvement in the overall well-being of the community.
National service leaders, social entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and innovators from across the country will converge in Chicago for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS), sponsored by the Points of Light Institute, June 18-20, 2012, to exchange ideas about and share solutions to some of the nation's toughest problems.
AmeriCorps Week, held this year March 10 to 18, is traditionally an opportunity for the Corporation for National and Community Service and AmeriCorps grantees to celebrate members in service and build community awareness for the impact of AmeriCorps. In recent years, it has also been an opportunity for AmeriCorps Alums, Points of Light's enterprise engaging alumni of national service, to accentuate their passion for service and their continued commitment to a lifetime in service.
The Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), a New York City-based Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant recipient, recently won Harvard University's noteworthy Kennedy School of Government Innovations in American Government Award for its powerful approach to fighting poverty in New York and across the country.
Growing up, I had dreams of what my future would look like. But reality taught me that achieving a dream and building a future is a learning process and can't be done alone.
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.Gov blog. In this series, we showcase news highlights that feature national service and Corporation for National and Community Service programs. Take a look at some of the great stories that had people talking recently.
My grandmother lived in Texas, and she would remind me that everything was bigger there -- including their hearts. The work of one person, empowered by a Corporation for National and Community Service program, demonstrates how thousands of people are making a Texas-sized impact on the lives of our nation's veterans.
Today, to celebrate AmeriCorps Week, I served with a group of volunteers – including five enthusiastic AmeriCorps members – at a Habitat for Humanity build site in Washington, DC.
On a daily basis, the employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency look into the eyes of disaster survivors and convey a calm strength and compassion to assist them on the road to recovery from disasters. Similarly conveying strength and resolve to make our nation stronger are the thousands of Americans who are part of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
I began my AmeriCorps journey when I was recruited into the program by the Community Action Agency in Annapolis, MD. My first job was to create a mentoring system for families of Head Start students. The next year, I continued serving in the program by training others in mentoring as a regional coordinator, and I returned for a third year with AmeriCorps to lead the program as a state coordinator with Volunteer Maryland.
A new chapter in the history of national service began today with the announcement of a partnership with FEMA to strengthen the nation's ability to respond to and recover from disasters and expand career opportunities for young people. The five-year agreement provides for an additional 1,600 AmeriCorps NCCC members annually to supplement our current NCCC force.
National service is one of America's most hallowed traditions. As Alexis De Tocqueville noted in 1835, we are a nation of joiners. Ours is a country where people take collective action for the good of all.

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