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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
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?" Across the country, Americans will answer that question by making the January 18, 2010 King Holiday a national day of service. We here at the Corporation for National and Community Service are asking individuals in the tech community to think about how you can help serve others on the King holiday and throughout the year. What can technologists do to help others on the King Holiday? There is a spectrum of involvement - from organizing a large-scale hackathon, to utilizing the King Holiday to build a blog for charity - everyone fits in according to whatever you can give.
Now is a great time to start planning a King Holiday project and I thought I would share this email from our Acting CEO, Nicola Goren.
With his Michigan town in need of a cleaning and beautifying committee, a local resident took matters into his own hands.
Volunteers have the power to transform their community. As co-founder of Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden, I have witnessed how people of all ages and abilities can come together to make a difference, transform neglect into beauty, and inspire change in other communities. In less than two years, volunteers took a historic landmark park from probation to elation. This is our story.
Our project is the landscaping and on-going care of the grounds of the new Hospice House of St. Mary's County.
From January 9 in San Diego to June 12 in Sacramento, Melissa W. will join others to walk up the California coast and over to Sacramento to raise diabetes awareness and encourage healthy habits among middle school students.
The Beaches Veterans Association holds monthly cook-outs, rotating between organizations. All proceeds goes to the USO No Dough Dinners.
Feeling overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude of the poverty, homelessness, and violence in this country and in our world, a volunteer learns to keep giving, keep loving, keep trying. “You never run out of capacity for these things,” she says.
My partners and I have started an off season youth football camp to better prepare the youth of our community in the fundamentals of the game and at the same time keep them occupied and off the streets.
This past September 12, Pepperdine University alumni, parents, and friends took part in service projects around campus, across the nation, and around the world as part of the 21st annual Step Forward Day.
The members of Western Fraternal Life Association Lodge #144 in Mosinee have made addressing community needs their top priority.
In my hometown of Reno, Nevada, about 60 low income, older veterans live in a subsidized-housing complex. Most live alone and have no family living nearby to help. The majority of them have no cars or even telephones. An added complication is that several are physically or mentally disabled.
The College Assistance Migrant Program Alumni Association will launch the 2nd National Cesar E. Chavez Blood Drive Challenge in March 2010. This national service learning program promotes the engagement of U.S. Hispanic college health students as organizers in a national donor recruitment campaign. The students organize blood drive campaigns on their college/university campuses as part of this national competition.
I am currently serving my second AmeriCorps term with Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) in Washington, DC. YSOP coordinates opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful service in Washington, DC and New York City.
In celebration of Global Youth Service Day 2009, high school students in El Paso planted tree seedlings behind three major non-profit organizations to provide a windbreak and safety screen for their outdoor areas.
Green Road Community Center in Raleigh has a brand new playground today thanks to a coordinated effort of 200 volunteers from Foresters™ and the community who erected the facility.
Students in Murtaugh, Idaho are building a community entrance to their town to attract highway passerby’s and highlight their town's natural beauty.
The folks are trained through the city's Community Emergency Response Team and are prepared for wind, snow, ice, power outages and earthquakes. Kloshe Illahee is a community of citizens ages 55 and up. Residents embarked on their neighborhood emergency plan in 2005. The plan was finalized in 2006. Now, the group is preparing a revision, with the goal of continuing self-sustainability in preparation for a disaster.
For 32 years, Chore Service has performed minor household repairs to help elderly and disabled remain safe in their homes. The driving force of Chore Service has been the dedicated, compassionate volunteers who perform the repairs. These are extraordinary people, willing to lend their time and considerable talents to help others.
I have taken the call of our President. I started an organization in my Community called ' Wheels for Education " . What we do is take students from the inner city of Philadelphia to College campuses.
Our team members grab a cup of coffee, some eggs and bacon, a tool, and a hardhat – and the day’s adventure begins.
In Wimberley, $3 million dollars has been collected through monthly, volunteer-driven Market Days. Since the 1960's, that money has gone exclusively towards providing important resources to the town and its citizens.
I have been working with American WWII veterans since 1994, making many of them guests of honor where once they were in combat.
A student learns that "art can be an exceptionally powerful tool toward communications and healing when words and discussions fall short." The exhibit she organizes is about restoring a connection: between victims of domestic violence and a community through a visual narrative form -- ART.
During the first "Make a Delicious Difference Week," 10,000 Kraft Foods employees in more than 32 countries gave their time to help fight hunger, support healthy lifestyles, and build stronger communities around the world. It was the largest volunteer initiative ever in Kraft Foods’ history.
Gary van der Wege, a member of the 2004 U.S. Paralympic Fencing Team, visited with the youth at the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio on September 11th. Gary shared with the club his inspiring story of how he became a paralympian.
The current economic downturn and challenges of raising a family in the 21st century has an impact on young boys.
College student in Binghamton rally around their community after an unimaginable tragedy.
Volunteering, Teamwork, Learning and Growing, Being Prepared- proactive choices that make a difference in our social security as a nation, community, family and individual.
Volunteers at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., have contributed more than 32,00 hours of service to the community. Celebrating 50 years of service, the hospital established the Sibley Heart Pillow Project this year to provide heart-shaped pillows to breast cancer patients for use after surgery.

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