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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
One of the things we love about our AmeriCorps Alums is that they are ready to answer the call when they hear of situations like those created by Hurricane Sandy. “Getting things done” is more than a slogan for our national service family – they are also words to live by. So let's talk about how you can help.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) today announced that approximately 936 national service members have been deployed to seven states affected by Hurricane Sandy, with 855 additional individuals on standby for assignments in the hardest-hit areas.
As the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy continue, the Corporation for National and Community Service will publish a digest of news items that underscore the response of national service participants across the nation. Visit this page regularly to see the latest updates.
When it comes to massive storms like Hurricane Sandy, many dangers remain long after the weather event has dissipated. Some areas far from the front lines of the devastation won’t make headlines but will continue to feel the storm’s effects for some time to come.
The devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy is still being assessed, but there are several ways you can help those affected by storm. The information below is compiled from FEMA. We will update this post with the most up-to-date and location-specific information as it becomes available. Be sure to check back regularly.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. While the worst of the weather is beyond some areas on the East Coast, Sandy remains a very large storm system that continues to pose life-threatening hazards for coastal and inland areas including high winds, heavy rains, dangerous storm surge and flash flooding, and snow and cold weather hazards in some areas.
An additional 112 AmeriCorps members have deployed as part of the CNCS response to Hurricane Sandy, bringing the total of national service members on the ground to 877. These members are serving in six states and include the 41 FEMA Corps teams previously deployed. An additional 900 members standby for deployment.
The Corporation for National and Community Service supports volunteer service across the nation, and we couldn’t let this weekend pass without saluting the millions who will take part in the annual Make a Difference Day. You can still find a project and join them if you hurry.
Each day more than 160,000 U.S. children stay home from school because they fear being bullied. Kids were once asked to accept and endure this treatment. But no longer. Children and adults are now taking a stand during National Bullying Prevention Month to end this form of harassment.
Recently discharged veterans shouldn't have to struggle to find work when they return home from service, but they often do. AmeriCorps VISTA Heather Hays is helping vets make the most of a program that lets them serve their country in a new way while placing them on a pathway to permanent employment.
We would like to introduce you to Percy Thomas and Dorothy Campbell, two amazing volunteers in our Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) whose service was profiled on Friday’s edition of the NBC Nightly News.
The formula to improve student achievement doesn’t start and end with the classroom -- talented teachers, committed parents, and engaged communities must also factor into the equation. Earlier this week, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and U.S. Department of Education recognized 31 organizations from across the nation for their pursuit of that goal in the Together for Tomorrow (TFT) Challenge.
If today is a typical day, someone's mother, sister, wife, or best friend won't be coming home tomorrow. If today is a typical day, three women in the United States will lose their lives to domestic violence. Today doesn't have to be another typical day.
The Social Innovation Fund is a Corporation for National and Community Service initiative that transforms lives by catalyzing broader impact of effective nonprofits. We've told its story in many ways, but sometimes a picture -- or in this case, a video -- is worth a thousand words.
The Coulee Region RSVP in La Crosse, Wisconsin, collaborates with Gundersen Lutheran Health System's environmental stewardship program to mitigate some of the waste that was being sent to the county's landfill and reuse the material to help others in the hospital.
What can YOU do? It’s such an interesting question because it’s wide open to interpretation. But I’ve found that most people, especially adults, tend to answer in the context of employment or occupation. And each time they do, it reaffirms my basic belief in the intrinsic value of work.
After defending our country in locations all around the world, many veterans find more battles await them when they return home. A new initiative was announced today to support and ease the reintegration of returning service members, veterans, and their families as they search for jobs and support services.
Utilizing the energy and enthusiasm of recent college grads from partner universities to serve as full-time advisers in underserved schools, the National College Advising Corps works to improve the prospects of economically disadvantaged students for post-secondary success.
Each year, the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll recognizes higher education institutions that reflect the values of exemplary community service and achieve meaningful outcomes in their communities through service.
You will hear the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) a lot whenever the discussion turns to improving education in the United States, and there is a good reason. Those disciplines are the cornerstones of the jobs that will keep America competitive in the near and distant future, and we have to get our students ready for that future now.
Physical activity is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and it can be especially important in helping kids do better in school. U.S. Health and Human Services studies show that regular physical activity for kids and teens improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, and increases self-esteem. Parents, teachers, and community leaders can all play a supportive role, and help encourage a healthy lifestyle by promoting physical activity into everyday routines.
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase news highlights 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.
Raising healthy families can be a challenge in today’s busy world, but an investment in a healthy lifestyle will reap many benefits for years to come. This is especially true for children, who are better equipped to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle when they are exposed to these habits early on.
Service comes naturally to Matt McCabe, the first AmeriCorps alum to join the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Board of Directors. A commitment to service was instilled in him by his parents and grandparents from childhood. “They set the expectation that we give back to our community,” said McCabe.
In the spring of 2011, a Marine stood on the porch steps of his new home in Annapolis, MD. He was not thinking about the beautiful row house that he would now share with his wife and four children, but was looking down at the porch that he helped build with his own hands. He was contemplating his spirit of service with a renewed vigor and hope.
Many homeless people face significant barriers to employment, including lack of work-appropriate clothing, limited access to computers or computer skills, and transportation issues. The dilemma is that these challenges are tough to surmount when people with a strong desire to work can’t access the practical tools they need to find and maintain long-term employment.
The Service News Digest is a regular feature on the Serve.gov blog. In this series, we showcase news highlights 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.
A passion for learning and service means one rotation was not enough for AmeriCorps member Rebbecca Bakre. So, after a stint with Civic Works, the 24-year-old, University of Maryland graduate joined Playworks Baltimore AmeriCorps while she pursues her master’s in public administration.
On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado struck my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly every resident was affected. The tornado destroyed approximately 18,000 vehicles, 7,000 homes, 5,000 businesses, and took the lives of 162 people, including two of my high school classmates.
Earthquakes, unlike other natural disasters, strike suddenly and don’t provide advanced warning time to prepare for their arrival. Knowing what to do if a quake happens can greatly reduce your risk of injury or death.

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