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Champions of Change: Making a Difference through Service and Innovation

Marta Urquilla, Senior Policy Advisor to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, reflects on this week's Champions of Change and the extraordinary impact they are having in communities, in schools, and in the workplace.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Last week, we gathered fourteen inspirational citizens to hear about their tireless efforts to renew and strengthen their communities through service and innovation. We met in New Orleans, the host city for the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, an annual convening of over 4,000 people working to make a difference in the lives of others. President Barack Obama has called New Orleans a “symbol of resilience and community”—and what better place to highlight these Champions of Change than the Crescent City and the living laboratory for social innovation and civic participation that it has become.

Each of this week’s Champions exemplifies our Administration’s firm belief that the best ideas really do come from outside of Washington—from local communities across the country where, everyday, individuals are taking on our most pressing social challenges and developing solutions that work. From a twelve-year old environmental activist to established and highly regarded non-profit leaders, these Champions are making an extraordinary impact in communities, in schools, and in the workplace. They are building homes, creating opportunities for young people, veterans, and immigrants, and helping disaster victims rebuild their lives. Through their actions, they demonstrate that citizen leadership is critical to “winning the future.” They are redefining civic participation in the 21st century.

Our Administration is investing in these community solutions. Many of the Champions of Change are recipients of Social Innovation Fund grants—YouthBuild USA, the Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative, and iMentor—and we are so excited by the work that they are doing on the ground. Others are partnering with national service programs like VISTA and AmeriCorps, and delivering critical services to help communities recover and rebuild from disasters and to support the reintegration of veterans in our society—Equal Justice Works, Alabama State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, and the Washington Commission for National and Community Service.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the St. Bernard Project. This New Orleans non-profit has drawn volunteers from across the country to rebuild hundreds of homes throughout St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s been quite an extraordinary example of “shared responsibility” and the possibilities that can come from citizens pulling together around a common goal. The President once noted that he saw in the St. Bernard Project “the symbol that this city has become.” And, indeed, the work of each of these Champions has such resonance.

Please visit the Champions of Change website to learn more about these individuals and their work. We hope these Champions and their causes will inspire and energize you to make a difference in your own communities, and, by doing so, to win the future.

Marta Urquilla is the Senior Policy Advisor to the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.