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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
Students at Woodmere Middle School on Long Island completed a service-learning project at the Town of Hempstead's Marine Nature Study Area in honor of the 16th Annual National Public Lands Day. They lent a helping hand to Long Island's tidal wetlands, which provide protection for shellfish, small fish, migratory birds, and other animals.
For low income non-English speaking families, tax season can be a daunting time. In Pinal County, Arizona, Ricardo Banuelos has opened up 16 centers to help residents overcome language barriers and recover the benefits they are entitled to.
Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Kathy Calvin, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the UN Foundation educated students about malaria and encouraged them to work within their communities to help prevent the deadly disease.
The Bronx Wash is a cement covered arroyo that is an uninviting eyesore in the Northwest Neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona. The goal of the Bronx Wash Mural Project is to encourage a sense of pride and ownership in the area, to reconnect the neighborhood and involve local residents in beautifying this shared space.
On the first-ever September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance, young people from across the nation planted trees in Keystone, Colorado, to honor fallen heroes and increase their knowledge of nature.
With the Citizen Corps Council/VOAD, RSVP hosted an informational meeting on August 24, 2009 - to kick off Safety and Security Week and also build up to 9/11.
United States Embassy staff and families in Tokyo, Japan have embraced the State Departments Embassy Community Action Program (ECAP) by leading book drives in local libraries.
Pratyusha Yalamanchi is making a difference locally and globally.
EducationWorks, which serves children and youth in urban neighborhoods, including Trenton in NJ, wanted to participate in a service event to recognize the new National Day of Service and Remembrance on 9/11/2009.
This August, a group of Girls Inc girls at our Brooklyn site volunteered at Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Mother organizes her community to knit 130 helmet liners for her son's fellow troops in Afghanistan.
Professional athletes in Austin, Texas answer the President's call on the first ever National Day of Service and Rememberance.
I am a senior and member of the varsity cheerleading squad at Stone Bridge High School. This year I helped organize my team to participate in a community service project to commemorate September 11.
Usher helps youth use their creative talents to address problems in their communities.
UPS employees have completed a project that benefits both Atlanta residents and the environment. These employee volunteers transformed a small patch of unused land into a garden full of hearty produce: corn, onions, okra, squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, beans, sweet potatoes and watermelon now fill a space that was previously vacant and unattractive.
The Northeast Ecological Corridor, protected as a Nature Reserve in April 2008, lies between the towns of Luquillo and Fajardo on Puerto Rico's northeastern shoreline. Its 3,200 acres include forests, wetlands, beaches, coral communities, a bioluminescent lagoon and one of the hottest surfing spots on Puerto Rico's east coast: "La Selva" (the jungle).
Danielle talks about the challenges ("try getting a physically combative 60 lb. 5 yr. old in a car seat by yourself") and triumphs ("I could see him carrying himself differently") of mentoring 5-year old Tyler, a young boy struck by the instability and stigma of having an incarcerated parent.
Students from 11 New York City schools competed in the first Teen Iron Chef competition of culinary skills and talent organized by HealthCorps®, Family Cook Productions and Urban Assembly School of Music and Art.
A retail store in Los Angeles opens its doors to help children read.
How one school got involved on September 11th by honoring our service members.
When I first found out I’d be interning in the New York City Mayor’s Office this summer, I resigned myself to a summer of desk work, with perhaps some filing thrown in for variety. So imagine my surprise when I began working at NYC Service, an office launched by Mayor Bloomberg in April in response to President Obama’s national call to service.
When I retired nearly four years ago, I never dreamed I would have so many interesting jobs and experiences.
Eastern Colorado experiences blizzard conditions every winter. Living snow fences are tree plantings strategically planned to provide protection along roadways by capturing wind driven snow, keeping snow and ice from creating driving hazards. In my career, I have coordinated or participated in 36 living snow fence plantings.
Mike L., a member with the American Red Cross’ AmeriCorps Together We Prepare program, has been making quite an impact on Washtenaw County in Michigan. Through his service with the county’s Red Cross chapter, Mike’s usual service has been organizing a youth service group called Youth Community Action Team (YCAT) and responding to local disasters. But following an AmeriCorps training session, another opportunity presented itself.
A Pittsburgh, PA couple takes time out every day to talk to the "Mayor of Main Street."
As the National Day of Service and Remembrance came to a close, Sprite renewed the urgent call for volunteerism across America by launching the Sprite Step Off Service Challenge on the Mall of Washington on September 12. As part of the Sprite Step Off, the largest college Greek competition ever, the Service Challenge presents an opportunity for young people to refresh their communities through volunteerism.
Boston-based rockers Thirteen Yards to Victory couldn't help but notice the headlines in the local newspapers and the announcements on social media sites that many arts and music education programs in their area were being cut severely. The bad economy was going to mean a poor education for so many students.
On September 11, more than a dozen Cabinet secretaries and senior administration officials commemorated the heroism of those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001, and remembered their spirit of sacrifice by engaging in service and volunteerism as part of the first officially recognized September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.
I wanted to share some news with you that the First Lady and I are excited to share on this National Day of Service and Remembrance.
In addition to sharing a visual impairment, students in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Form in Art program also share a great enthusiasm for art, as is demonstrated by these works from their annual exhibition on display through August 2009.

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