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"All Together Now: A Celebration of Service"

Sonal Shah, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, reflects on the Points of Light Institute tribute to President George H. W. Bush and the important role service plays in achieving our national priorities.

Throughout the month of March, the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating stories of service.  Last night, the Points of Light Institute paid tribute to President George Herbert Walker Bush, America’s 41st President and the man who inspired the modern service movement.

Throughout his life, President Bush has promoted the notion that every day, in communities across America, countless ordinary individuals and community organizations are hard at work volunteering their time and skills to help make a difference in the lives of others.  He described this hands-on movement as “a vast galaxy of people and institutions working together to solve problems in their own backyard.” 

During his Administration, President Bush created the first ever Cabinet-level position dedicated solely to service and established the Daily Points of Light Award to highlight individuals making a difference in their communities.  President Bush called the nation to service, and in response, the Points of Light Foundation, which later became the Points of Light Institute, was created.  Thanks to the work of President and Mrs. Bush, many Americans have come to recognize the voluntary action of citizens as a cornerstone of our democracy. 

President Obama continues to carry on this legacy of service.  Within the first 100 days of his Administration, he made expanding national service a Presidential priority by signing into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  The landmark legislation reauthorizes and expands AmeriCorps and establishes the Social Innovation Fund.  Two key ideas promoted by the Act – rewarding results and demonstrating the impact of national service programs – have resonated with communities and funders around the country.  Since the signing of the Act, there’s been an emergence of new models of civic and corporate engagement and a fresh focus on evaluation and metrics for success. 

Service is not separate from our achieving our national priorities, but integral to it.  In fact, in times of challenge, we are best when we turn to community for the solutions rather than away from it.  Through the creativity and ingenuity of engaged citizens, we can create a future that allows our children to prosper. 

Last night, the Points of Light Institute honored President and Mrs. Bush for their remarkable leadership and dedication to service.  The public event in Washington D.C. brought together all of the living former Presidents, many senior Administration officials, and thousands of people from around the country who have helped their communities through service.  Tune into NBC on Monday, March 28th to watch the event.

The Points of Light Institute is also collecting inspiring stories from around the country.  Share yours on their online Tribute Wall.

Sonal Shah is the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation