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For many Americans, service is a daily commitment to the schools, parks, and individuals that make up our community. Even before President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009, service was a rapidly growing movement across our country; enabling and empowering countless ordinary citizens to do extraordinary things for the greater good. Today, at a time of great need, Americans continue to answer the call to serve and make America stronger by volunteering their time and individual resources to addressing key national issues such as the dropout crisis, disaster relief, and the environment. Meanwhile, today’s leaders in the service movement continue to seek new and innovative ways to inspire even more people to serve, including the founding of Volunteer Week.
Volunteer Week is an initiative dedicated to encouraging people to become actively engaged in helping make a positive change in their community. As the Executive Director of City Year Washington, DC, I am privileged to work beside 140 diverse young leaders between the ages of 17-24 who have chosen to dedicate, not just a week, but a year of their lives to service and improving the DC community. Their example is inspiring to me for so many reasons, not only because of the impact they are having in our schools, but because of their personal stories about the people and experiences that inspired them to serve.
These young leaders – called corps members – come from all across the country for a year of full-time service; and for many of them, the desire to take their volunteerism to the next level arose from modest origins. Organizing a school-wide canned food drive, serving meals at a local shelter, raking an elderly neighbor’s lawn, and even participating in events like Volunteer Week, enabled them to appreciate the value of and see the need for service in our communities. That is why initiatives like Volunteer Week are so important. Because it is not how you choose to serve, but rather, the fact that you have chosen to serve at all that makes the real difference.
For those trying to figure out how to get involved, I will defer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” Finding opportunities to serve starts with identifying the needs of your community and understanding how your interests and unique talents play a role in addressing those needs. Passionate about animal rights? Volunteer at a local animal shelter. Care about the environment? Organize a party to pick up trash at a local park. Are you an avid reader? Tutor a child and share your passion. Want to make a difference? Serve. Want to serve alongside 140 other young people with a common goal? Consider serving with City Year. Service is about giving back to make a positive change. We all have something to contribute and by volunteering we can address the pressing, complex issues facing our country, strengthen our communities, and even transform ourselves into the compassionate, committed leaders our society needs us to be.
Guest blogger Jeff Franco is Executive Director of City Year DC.