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At a Washington DC press conference on Friday, General Colin Powell announced the Renew America Together initiative as part of President-elect Obama’s national call to service. President-Elect Obama is kicking off Renew America Together by asking all Americans to volunteer in their communities on this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service (Jan 19), which will be part of the many inauguration commemorations and festivities taking place across the nation. To help Americans answer his call, a new website has been launched (www.usaservice.org) featuring thousands of volunteer opportunities.
President-elect and Mrs. Obama and Vice President-Elect and Mrs. Biden will be participating in community service projects in the Washington DC area on MLK Day as well—carrying on a tradition of Presidents serving on MLK Day that began with President Clinton.
Modeled after the acclaimed mybarackobama.com website from campaign days, this new site bears the familiar design and some of the familiar functionality that moved millions of people to donate and volunteer for the Obama campaign. Visitors can both find and create service opportunities on USAService.org. The Presidential Inauguration Committee has worked with scores of organizations, like the Corporation for National and Community Service, My Good Deed, DoSomething.org, Service Nation, and Hands On Network to develop a list of thousands of opportunities taking place in neighborhoods across the nation.
Congress made Martin Luther King Day a national day of service in 1994. Last year boasted the largest turnout ever and this year organizers hope to see many, many more. Since FDR, most Presidents have used federal resources in their calls for national and community service. From the Civilian Conservation Corps to the Peace Corps to Points of Light to AmeriCorps to USA Freedom Corps, modern Presidents (bringing the Federal government’s resources with them) have played a prominent role in helping to shepherd and define what many consider to be a uniquely American asset of consistent neighbor-helping-neighbor community problem solving.
As we face historic economic challenges, international crises, and innumerable hurdles confronting towns and cities large and small [from failing infrastructure to educational disparities], it seems it would take a miracle for President-Elect Obama to be able to inspire large-scale, meaningful community action. Will the man that inspired millions of people to get out the vote and give up their dollars to Obama for America be able to inspire them to give up their time, their talents and their treasure to join together to renew, refresh and revitalize communities in need?
Service has been a defining part of my life. I grew up in an inner city Boys & Girls Club, where caring adult volunteers made the difference in my development. I’ve since been fortunate to spend my career helping to build organizations that give people a place –and a reason- to serve. And, since I’ve been at the Case Foundation I’ve become a diehard fan of many AmeriCorps programs, topmost City Year, which engages young people in a year of fulltime service-- simultaneously transforming the communities they serve and the City Year members as well.
In communities from coast to coast, I’ve witnessed first hand the difference that community engagement makes on problems from drug abuse to literacy. I have been told that it's the toughest of times when Americans give the most. Well, times are tough. I'm a hopeful optimist and will be out serving on MLK Day-- and am trying to work less (but still very hard, Jean and Ben) and give back more during the year ahead. Are you going to serve on MLK Day? Will you volunteer more or less in the year ahead? Will President-Elect Obama be able to inspire community action? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Read a press release about the launch of Renew America Together
Watch highlights from MLK Day of Service 2008
Listen to radio public service announcments for MLK Day of Service 2009