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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
On June 25, President Obama made a federal disaster declaration for parts of Alaska along the Yukon River due to ice jam-related flooding from May 17 to June 11. On cue, a team of AmeriCorps members soon arrived in the remote village of Galena to help people there begin to recover.
A few years ago, a young teenager named Chris was living the street life in Austin, Texas, a high school dropout dealing drugs and facing bleak prospects for the future. While spending time at a juvenile detention center, two Senior Corps volunteers offered Chris love, support, and consistent finger-wagging, encouraging him to take his life in a new direction. Today, thanks to AmeriCorps, Chris has graduated from high school, gained valuable work skills, and found his passion in life -- becoming a wildland firefighter.
Last week, members of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) family joined Volunteer West Virginia and the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia as more than 40,000 volunteers descended on the Mountain State to perform 350 service projects across nine counties.
A flash flood on July 17 swept through Bannack State Park, a ghost town near Dillon, MT, unearthing many historic artifacts that were scattered throughout the flood zone. Shortly thereafter, a 14-member team from Montana State Parks AmeriCorps sprang into action to locate, tag, and recover items from the site.
In the spirit of Let’s Read. Let’s Move., Atlanta is tackling  the challenge to keep kids’ brains and bodies active through the new Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, which will host  a series of events across the city that cater to the community’s young readers.
What an amazing week for national service!  From the White House to West Virginia, service was in the spotlight.
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.  
By Cecilia Muñoz and Wendy Spencer     In his 1989 Inaugural Address, when President George H.W. Bush uttered the words “a thousand points of light” he launched a movement. By signing the first National Service Act in 1990, President Bush ushered in the modern era of national service, setting the stage for the creation of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
National service makes a difference for millions of Americans, but few examples demonstrate this idea better than the story of AmeriCorps member Chris Guzman. His inspirational speech during last week’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington, DC, drew a standing ovation, and we believe his journey is a prime example of how Corporation for National and Community Service programs change lives.
The suicide of 11-year-old Ty Smalley three years ago shined a spotlight on the bullying he had endured for years at his school in a small Oklahoma town.
Birthdays are big events for most people, but that’s not a given for those who are homeless and have few, if any, resources for life’s luxuries.
While Pedro Rosario’s love of animals was the impetus behind a successful 16-year career at New York City Animal Care and Control, the realities of the job meant he had to witness the euthanizing of many unadopted animals. Rosario believed he could do more to save animals on his own, leading him to create the nonprofit New Beginning Animal Rescue (NBAR) in the East Bronx in 2012.
When 10-year-old Autumn Blinn’s grandmother taught her to sew, they decided to make a pillow for her grandfather John Santiago, who undergoes kidney dialysis three times a week at a Utica, NY, hospital. After John asked her to make another to rest his arm on during his treatments, Autumn was inspired to use her skills to make “Pillows of Love” for as many people as possible.
Hurricane Sandy not only caused physical damage but wreaked havoc on many long-established community connections. In Rockaway Park, water damage to the St. Camillus-St. Virgilius Parish gym scuttled a weekly gathering for children and adults with disabilities. But the community behind Rockaway Special Athletes worked to keep the Monday night tradition alive.
The Corporation for National and Community Service is again collaborating with the New York Yankees during its fifth-annual HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) to highlight acts of goodwill and service in the community.
The Statue of Liberty withstood the force of Hurricane Sandy when it struck last fall, but storm damage closed Liberty Island to tourists just weeks after renovations were completed to the area. AmeriCorps Cape Cod FireCorps members working on Sandy recovery efforts joined the National Park Service to clean up the island, ensuring the American landmark would be ready when it reopens to visitors on July 4th.
Have you ever had one of those days where you can't stop smiling? This month was filled with them. Support for national service grows stronger and stronger; during the past two weeks, we've seen this momentum build in several major arenas. Here's the latest news:
Did you know students can experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months? On average, students lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during the summer months. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.
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.
A construction project in the shadow of the Washington Monument brought 40 AmeriCorps and VISTA national service members to Washington, DC, to assemble frames for new Habitat for Humanity homes during the 2013 Veterans Build on the Mall June 2-5.
Today, we're pleased to share the truly inspiring story of Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps member Regina Best. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Regina Best was recently homeless and became so passionate about service that she spent months building homes for others before finding one for herself. Now in her own apartment and back in school, Best is determined to keep serving well beyond her AmeriCorps term.
In the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma, last week, the Corporation for National and Community Service is working closely with federal, state, and local officials to deploy AmeriCorps members to the region early Tuesday, May 21. As of Thursday, May 30, 96 AmeriCorps members had boots on the ground.
The Corporation for National and Community Service kicked off its national Let’s Read. Let’s Move. summer initiative by joining the Junior League of Washington to give away the first of more than 15,000 books to DC Public School students.
In the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma, last week, we have witnessed remarkable courage and compassion. From the first responders who pulled survivors from the rubble, to the teachers who shielded their students, to the residents who sheltered their neighbors, Oklahomans have displayed extraordinary strength and resilience.
President Obama’s words remind us of the remarkable way in which Americans across the country will unite after tragedy strikes, just as they have done in the wake of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma yesterday.
Last year Senior Corps volunteers contributed more than 80 million hours of service and improved the lives of more than 1.5 million Americans. They tutored or mentored 300,000 children, served more than 560,000 veterans, and helped nearly 800,000 older Americans live independently in their homes.
This week, the Corporation for National and Community Service, elected officials, and community leaders are marking the contributions of Senior Corps volunteers across the country. In fact, more than 40 governors have issued proclamations for Senior Corps Week.
We'd like to introduce you to the new online home for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). You’ve probably noticed that we’ve made a few changes to the look and feel of our site, so we’ve put together this short guide to navigating the site and finding what you need.
Six months ago, Hurricane Sandy struck communities all along the East Coast. In the aftermath of this devastating super storm, AmeriCorps and national service members trained in disaster response are proving to be a valuable and cost-efficient resource for America as they help victims and survivors begin to rebuild their lives.
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.

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