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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 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
  • Nominating someone you know for a Daily Point of Light Award at

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
When 5-year old Andy Fass attended his first baseball game, it was hard to imagine it would change his life. But a chance meeting with legendary Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte gave Fass the desire to try a game he thought he would never play.
Stefanie Dwyer’s childhood in East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall shaped her future in a unique way. After growing up in a country that had many limitations, Dwyer held on to memories of horseback riding that inspired her to bring that sense of freedom to people with physical and mental challenges.
Alison's daily struggles while raising two young children made her dream of a college degree seem unobtainable. But things began to turn around when the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, DC connected her with a Promotor.
Jorge Muñoz's 2004 encounter with homeless day laborers sounds like the pivotal moment in the latest feel-good movie. But the “Angel in Queens” wouldn't be providing up to 140 meals nightly if the need in their words didn't resonate with him: “If we have a job, we will get money to eat tonight; if not, we don't eat anything.”
Once again the Corporation for National and Community Service is collaborating with the New York Yankees during its fourth annual HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) June 25-29 as the baseball franchise recognizes acts of goodwill and the hope and encouragement they provide.
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.
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.
This week, I had the pleasure of attending the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago, IL. This annual gathering of the nonprofit sector brings together activists and organizers, government officials and nonprofit leaders from around the country.
More than 50 years ago, a group of young African-American college students staged a sit-in to demand service at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, NC , and sparked a youth movement throughout the country. As the sit-ins spread, some young people were beaten and even arrested, but they were not deterred. As a result, they helped end racial segregation in America, and showed the world how youth determination and leadership can make a difference.
For some veterans, it feels like another battle begins when they return home from serving their country – getting a place to call home.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) just announced a tremendous commitment to support veterans and military families at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. From expanded grants to increased “people power” in areas of need, we are ready to stand with our soldiers to provide opportunities that will help them continue their service here at home while we serve their special needs.
As thousands of service leaders gathered at National Conference on Volunteering and Service today, Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Wendy Spencer announced $213 million in new AmeriCorps grants to strengthen the impact of more than 275 organizations across the country in tackling the most pressing challenges facing communities and the nation.
Today the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced the winners of the 2012 Service Impact Awards at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago.
Next week, CNCS is headed to Chicago for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. There, over 1000 members of the national service family will join the more than 4000 conference attendees for three days of service-focused conversations, lessons, and sessions.
Today's Wordless Wednesday celebrates National Smile Month with a look at the joy volunteers experience while giving back. With smiles like these, who wouldn't volunteer?
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.
In October 2010, I began my first year of service as an AmeriCorps member with the Community Building Partnerships for Youth in Transition program in Denver, Colorado. I was placed with the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver in the Community Programs Branch at Bruce Randolph School and tasked with mentoring ten youth over the course of the year – a job I found both intimidating and exciting.
Minnesota Reading Corps, an AmeriCorps program designed to help every child in the state become a successful reader by the end of third grade, announced positive growth in its results with numbers that surpassed those for students statewide.
“I am the leadership of the now.” That's what Ely Flores told the White House Council for Community Solutions (the Council) during our meeting in October 2011. Ely used this phrase to express his deep frustration with policymakers and organizations that refer to youth as the “leadership of the future” and dismiss any potential contribution that young people can make in their communities today. Ely's words still resonate with me nearly seven months later – and motivate me to push harder to help young people with similar frustrations.
The Social Innovation Fund is excited to announce the applicants to the 2012 grant competition. We received 31 applications by the due date of March 27, of which 25 were compliant and moved on to the full competition.
The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has a rich heritage in food production, but an increased reliance on processed foods has left them susceptible to America's obesity epidemic. One way to battle this problem is to increase the availability of locally grown, healthy food choices, and the Red Cliff Mino Bi Ma De Se Win (Return to the Good Life) Community Farm is tackling the problem head-on.
We would all like to believe we control our own destiny. But experiences teach us we are sometimes shaped by forces outside ourselves: the opportunities we encounter, the people we meet, those who mentor us, and the communities that surround us. This is not to say that our paths are prescribed—but that we need the skills to recognize and seize opportunities that come our way.
Earlier this week, National Service traveled to Missouri to help the community of Joplin mark the one-year anniversary of the tornado that struck the town last year. The response to the destruction has been remarkable - with volunteers traveling from near and far to help rebuild Joplin. On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, thousands of Joplin residents, volunteers, and supporters came together to honor those lost and celebrate the last year's progress.
One year ago today, Joplin MO was ravaged by a devastating E5 tornado. In the 12 months that followed, the community responded with an unmatched sense of hope and a determination to rebound. National Service is proud to have been a part of these recovery efforts and continues to provide services there today.
Donations from around the country piled up and volunteers turned out in droves in the days and weeks that followed last year's devastating May 22 tornado in Joplin, MO. City officials estimate that Joplin received donated resources and volunteer hours totaling $17.7 million, the largest amount in Missouri's history and the largest amount ever recorded in FEMA's Region VII.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the May 22 Joplin tornado, we'll be featuring a variety of content on the blog, including Q&As with those who served in the community, like this one.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the May 22 Joplin tornado, we'll be featuring a variety of content on the blog, including Q&As with those who served in the community, like this one.
On April 20, Nebraska young people paused for seven seconds of silence. These students and young adults were illustrating the fact that every seven seconds someone in our country is bullied. Together, 61,709 students and youth in communities across Nebraska made a personal pledge to fight bullying and stand up for those who are bullied.
For an aging individual coping with the loss of mobility, lack of proper foundations in and around a home can lead to difficulties remaining independent and mobile. This is especially true of our nation's veterans and as a nation, we have a duty to take care of these individuals who have sacrificed so much for our country.
May is a time of graduations, fresh spring air and new beginnings. But for many, graduation from high school or college is far from a reality, and opportunities for a fresh start are out of reach. At least one in six young people ages 16-24 are disconnected from school and work – the two pathways that provide the greatest hope for a bright and productive future. Yet, these young people dream of building careers and making important contributions to our communities. That's why we see them as “Opportunity Youth.”


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