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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
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.
Good nutrition is important for everyone, but incorporating high-quality food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, can be challenging for people as they age and their appetites diminish.
Another intense storm had hit in the night, filling the church’s window-wells with water that flowed over the roof’s rain gutters. For the next several hours all of us were mopping, vacuuming, and baling water to protect the reconstructed walls and flooring from the need to be demolished and replaced again. It brought back many difficult memories of fighting the 1993 floods, but this time we won.
As a communications instructor at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn., I am always looking for new ways to re-invent my communication courses for first and second-year students. In September 2008, I took 10 students to National Public Lands Day at our local state park, Bledsoe Creek State Park.
Once a month, Ed and his son, help prepare a hot meal for 35-40 men, women, and children at the 8th Street Mission in West Memphis, Ark. Every week, he stops by to serve desert and help with dishes. "I feel at home there as I cook, serve the tables, and wash dishes."
"I believe the best thing we can do in life is give service to others and that is part of the mission of 4-H, to pledge our hands to larger service"
It was our second day on the Thrivent Builds with the Habitat for Humanity site in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and already the house that my Thrivent Financial for Lutherans colleagues and I were constructing was taking shape. What was simply a foundation when we arrived the day before now had a floor and walls.
By simply offering their time and skills through pro bono services, two lawyers helped a senior citizen access benefits she desperately needed.
“We helped today by making it possible for the Sergeant to do a job that he otherwise had no way of doing. The fact that for the next two years he has one less thing to worry about is more important than we realize.”
At Intel, we strive to be an asset to our communities around the world. Under the Intel Involved Skills Based Volunteer program, employees are encouraged to use their professional skills to make a sustainable impact in their communities.
As part of United We Serve’s Energy and Enviornment Week, the Community Action Agency of Delaware County in Pennsyvania conducted a two-week volunteer initiative.
Just before the summer began, the Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Coast learned that they would not be able to serve lunch to their youth club members for the first time in five years. This lasted for weeks, until Morgan Stanley stepped in to help.
Rachael, a former Washington, D.C. Public School teacher, volunteers with middle-school youth to help them strengthen literacy skills, develop civic values, and have fun in the process.
A group of "bored" of middle school students in Ames, Iowa, spend the summer planning a community block party and lay the foundation for a new service-learning club for youth.
Family honors daughter lost to ovarian cancer through service and creating awareness around the disease.
Every year in America, over 100 million new cell phones are sold at stores and malls. Of these sales, 95% are going to consumers that already have a phone. What do you do with your old phone? Secure the Call, www.securethecall.org, relies on volunteers to collect used and unwanted phones and then recycle them back to the community to be used as free 911 emergency-only phones.
Summer is a season of heightened hunger in America. As the school year ends and school nutrition programs end with it, many children lose an important source of food. Regular donations to local charities are also interrupted by travel and changed summer schedules. In 2009, economic troubles have made the challenges facing many families even greater.
Volunteers across the country are teaming with Islamic Relief USA in the annual 'Day of Dignity' effort to serve thousands of homeless and underserved people in 19 cities.
Students from Laconia High School in New Hampshire are well on their way to the creation of a DVD that will contain blueprints and critical information to be used by emergency services. In addition to creating a new emergency brochure for parents, students are using state-of-the-art Computer Aided Drafting software and laser measuring tools to create detailed floor plans and 3-D views of each room in the high school.
Unemployment is around 10% in Wyandotte County, Kansas, so many families have a hard time getting all the school supplies their kids need to start the new school year. On August 1, a team of more than 100 volunteers from several community organizations distributed school supplies to nearly 4,000 students.
In response to the President's call to service, members of Lajna Imaillah, the women's auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, are launching a "Feed the Hungry" program.
Dr. Angela began a community health program at Korean Resource Center (KRC) with a group of Korean American medical students. Monthly clinics are held that provide individual consultations to low-income uninsured Korean Americans, many of whom have been diagnosed with illnesses.
On Saturday, July 18, volunteers from Goldman Sachs and more than 130 volunteers from The UN Foundation’s second annual Youth Leadership Summit gathered to assist the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) with the reparation of northern Manhattan’s 119-acre Highbridge Park.
70 percent of the work at the Gaining Ground organic farm in the historic Concord, Mass., is completed by volunteers. In fact, volunteers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds harvest approximately 20,000 lbs. of organic produce at the farm each growing season.
Capitol One Bank was so moved by the poster’s message - that domestic violence occurs at all ages and seniors are just as likely to become victims as any other age group - that it also donated $50,000 to the Not Forgotten Coalition to help fund training for volunteers working with seniors.
Actor Charles S. Dutton, who was incarcerated in his youth, inspires more than 150 young people in Arkansas to take control of their education and to help strengthen their communities in an effort to keep these young adults from entering the criminal justice system.
Regardless of her disability, Blair has always loved community service.
California Lutheran University students partnered with the City of Ventura for a Ventura Riverbed Cleanup.
The Mid-South Lions Club donates a life changing surgery to a little girl who was attacked by a pit bull.
It took a lot of time but the rewards of serving in the hospital and on the ambulance are well worth it.

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