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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
Cisco employees decided that they wanted to “make an impact” and not just “write a check” for the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens in downtown San Jose, an area maintained entirely by volunteers. Thirty-eight Cisco employees rolled up their sleeves to clean and provide maintenance for the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens.
Joel Berg at the New York City Coalition Against Hunger works with community volunteers in 3 New York City neighborhoods to organize Community Supported Agriculture Projects - programs that make farm fresh produce accessible and affordable for all income levels.
“Number 3, number 3 number 2, number 2 number 9, number 9 number number 9, number 9 number 5!” The Student Conservation Association (SCA) youth crew chants out their rhythm game to warm up before hiking into National Park Service land to perform trail work at the Phleger Estate.
As a tornado touched down a few blocks away, volunteers from the Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition gathered in the basement of a church, and without skipping a beat, continued their work with Groveland Food shelf.
The Mission Continues…even after the military. David has been awarded a Mission Continues Fellowship that will allow him to continue his work as head coach of the Baltimore Broncos. In this role, he not only teaches the game of football, but also strengthens the lives of his players. This non-profit football team focuses on providing an outlet for underprivileged youth, through football.
As a professional athlete, Rams linebacker Chris Draft has had to deal with many challenges on the field. No challenge may have been bigger than trying to tackle asthma through every stage of his career. Chris knows the challenges of having asthma as an athlete, and that’s why he’s partnered with the National Lt. Governor’s Association to challenge coaches across the country to educate themselves about the challenges and dangers of asthma to athletes.
Jim Thome of the Chicago White Sox talks about the White Sox Volunteer Corps and how his team is "stepping up to the plate" in the Chicagoland community.
Our Western Fraternal Life Association Lodge 236 members have done community services for decades and plan to expand our volunteer efforts - reminding present and future generations of historical events so that, hopefully, we can help prevent them from occurring again.
I'm a member of a couple of Tucson, Arizona groups that bring the barn-raising model to community greening projects.
The US Department of Health and Human Services partnered with Safe Shores on a back to school supply drive and flu educational event.
First-year students at American University participated in the school's largest-ever Freshman Service Experience.
I know cancer all too well. It robbed me of my father, aunt, grandmother, and grandfather. Because of that, I know how important a helping hand can be for cancer patients and their families.
The US Department of Commerce is answering the President's call to service through an all-volunteer "Green Team" at our headquarters building in Washington, DC. The Team is comprised 134 volunteers with representatives from the Office of the Secretary and all seven Operating Units located at, or nearby, the Herbert C. Hoover Building (HCHB).
Despite growing up in New Orleans, David never thought there was a reason for him to stay, especially when so much of what he loved about the city had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and crime. David's work with the Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps and Desire Street Ministries camp this summer, however, has made him realize that he plays a big part in the rebuilding of his hometown.
Operation Homefront, military families and local volunteers teamed up to take part in the President’s call to service during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend. On Saturday, July 25, Operation Homefront hosted a project to prepare care packages for deployed service members and back-to-school backpacks for New York’s military children.
“It’s a good feeling to use my skills to volunteer and help the school," said Anne, a retired nurse serving her community.
All across the country, humanities scholars partner with national service members to engage in critical discussions of service, justice, and more. Here's one example of a parks crew in Montana that moves from cutting trail to digging deep into questions of community and social change.
I decided since I can't throw away things from my toothbrush to computers, to microwave or deck furniture; one thing I sure can do is to use reusable grocery bags to reduce the toxic trash.
Two weeks ago, Oregon residents came together with Clackamas County Volunteer Connection Center, RSVP and local service agencies to discuss who is homeless in the county and why, what is being done to support them and how local individuals and groups could help meet the needs of the community.
Voluntary organizations, governments, are working together to rebuild flood-damaged homes before winter.
It's never too late to start helping others.
Yesenia was taking filmmaking classes at Raw Art Works (RAW), in Lynn, MA, where she was learning to get creative. As she thought about applying for college – she would be the first in her family to go – she found the support she needed right at RAW.
This was the first I’d even heard of a Duck Drop Race, so I was intrigued and wanted to participate. It was a chance to bring together community youth, families, the Chamber of Commerce who started the event, and the community watershed organization with which I work: the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance (SCRA).
While completing certification for mediation and facilitation, Rebecca is volunteering as a mediator with the City of David, California's Community Mediation Services. During these tough economic times, she hopes to help those in her community who feel helpless and intimidated by small-claims court.
Our first mission was to inform the local community, who for the most part, were unaware that the purpose of the USO was to make a ‘Home Away from Home ‘ for our military service members and their families many of whom were away from home for the first time in their lives. Deployments for six or more months at sea or years in the war zones were highly stressful for both they and their loved ones. This was what the USO was created to support during WW ll.
Ella M. was restless during a brief period of retirement in Florida. Looking for new purpose in this phase of her life, she returned to her home state of New Jersey and started volunteering at the local hospital. It turned out to be the perfect fit. Now 93 years old, and after having battled and defeated cancer twice herself, Ella has volunteered nearly 32,000 hours at the hospital and has no plans to stop.
This summer, Sierra Club’s Cool Cities program launched its Home Energy Ambassador Training program in partnership with United We Serve
With the help of 800 Dow Chemical Company volunteers, local Bay City, Michigan, volunteers and homeowners, as well as the support of over 30 organizations, 38 homes were revitalized in the Rexer-Jablonski neighborhood in just one week.
Find a whole new community at your local Veterans Administration facility. They will welcome you with open arms - and there is BBQ!
A public school and a charter school in NYC put on the gloves and battle it out. Not boxing gloves, though - work gloves. And they're in the same corner.

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