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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
President Obama today celebrated the remarkable achievements of student science fair winners and extraordinary kid innovators from across the nation in the third White House Science Fair. The Fair brought 100 students from more than 40 states to an all-day, hands-on celebration of the power and potential of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
Every October, millions of people across the nation volunteer their time during Make A Difference Day to make their communities better places to live. This week, 10 projects and three cities will be honored with Make A Difference Awards, and several national service participants – including two AmeriCorps members – will be recognized.
Don't miss this year's National Conference on Volunteering and Service… or the early-bird registration rate!
This month is full of volunteering and community impact. National Volunteer Week is April 21-27, followed by a weekend where millions of young people across the country will participate in the 2013 Global Youth Service Day taking place on April 26-28.
America is a nation of volunteers. Results from our annual Volunteering in America survey show how willing our friends and neighbors are to lend a helping hand. More than 64 million Americans volunteer each year, strengthening the nation’s safety net and providing vital services to our communities.
Today, 832 mayors from big cities to small towns and everything in between are participating in the Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service. What a great way to highlight the many ways that AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers demonstrate the power that every citizen has to make a difference
Next week more than 730 mayors, collectively representing nearly 100 million Americans in all 50 states, will join together to recognize the impact of national service participants in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs who are making a difference in their communities.
The new School Turnaround AmeriCorps is an exciting initiative that will provide resources to serve disadvantaged students in underperforming schools across the nation. Today, April 2, 2013, is the deadline for applicants that wish to participate to submit a Notice of Intent to Apply for the grant program.
Community leader and labor activist Cesar Chavez once said that, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him ... The people who give you their food give you their heart."
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase articles 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.
For more 40 years, the Presidential Citizens Medal has recognized Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens." The Medal is among the highest awards a civilian can receive.
Today's Wordless Wednesday focuses our recent celebration of AmeriCorps Week with a selection of photos from the AmeriCorps Facebook page.
Around the country, December is welcomed as a month of hope and good cheer. It may be a season for exchanging gifts, or for sharing time and resources with community members in need. For many, it is also a time to gather together with loved ones to reminisce about cherished memories and create new stories that will be shared in the future. Such stories preserve the legacy of a family, the history of a generation, and perhaps most important of all, the story of a nation.
As an Iraq War veteran, I am honored to work at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). We are home to more than 70,000 AmeriCorps members, whom we are celebrating as part of AmeriCorps Week.
For many AmeriCorps members, finishing a term of service is not an ending, but the beginning of a life dedicated to public service and improving the lives of others.
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase articles 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, including a new initiative to place AmeriCorps members in underperforming schools across the nation.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) today announced the five institutions that are the Presidential Awardees in the 2013 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This designation is the highest honor a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement.
The IRS filing deadline is less than two months away, reviving a task that ranks somewhere near having a root canal for a lot of Americans. However, there are many national service members who are ready and willing to tackle the job, free of charge, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Who says accountants should have all the fun?
Recognizing the work AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs perform in communities across the nation, the National League of Cities (NLC) will join more than 275 city leaders to shine a spotlight on their service during the Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service on April 9.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and U.S. Department of Education announced a new collaborative effort today to strengthen and accelerate interventions in our nation’s lowest-performing schools. The new School Turnaround AmeriCorps program will support a dedicated unit of AmeriCorps members that will provide additional support and resources in persistently underachieving schools.
Disasters like Hurricane Sandy not only cause physical damage, but they can leave confusion and anger in their wake for weeks and months. So it must have surprised FEMA Corps Team Leader Cassie Murray to be declared “an angel” only a few hours after she was angrily confronted by one of the storm's survivors.
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase articles that feature national service and Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) programs. Take a look at some of the great stories that had people talking recently.
Today Sen. Harris Wofford received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Obama during a White House ceremony. We salute Sen. Wofford as he receives this honor and for his role as a longtime supporter and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. We’ve created a video that pays tribute to his legacy and highlights his life in public service.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama vowed to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America,” and he traveled to Georgia today to discuss the need for early childhood education. Improving education is a priority at the Corporation for National and Community Service that we support through proven national service efforts that make a difference in the lives of millions of students.
So, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and florists will be scrambling to fill orders and chocolate consumption is expected to rise by maybe a jillion percent. Suppose we take this day dedicated to love and use it to show that we have big hearts by serving or giving to others?
The blizzard that whacked the Northeast last weekend paralyzed the hardest-hit areas, and created a gigantic task for workers mobilized to clear roads and restore electricity to areas that lost power. The storm is a reminder that this season can pack a punch, and we need to be prepared to handle winter’s wrath.
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase articles that feature national service and Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) programs. Take a look at some of the great stories that had people talking recently
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase articles 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.
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The Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor, recognizes American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens. Sen. Harris Wofford will be honored along with other recipients at a White House ceremony on Friday, Feb. 15.

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