As I walked through the arches of the outdoor arcade of Union Station on my way into work on March 14th, my mind was consumed with plans and preparations for the State Dinner at the White House later that evening. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and I could not contain my nerves.
I slowed down when I noticed a middle-aged man wearing what appeared to be unwashed clothing, peering into a garbage can to see what he could find. My immediate reaction was, "I'm going to the White House tonight for that man."
In that moment, I was reminded of my purpose and, ultimately, why I was invited to the White House. I was not invited because my dress fit well or my jewelry sparkled. I was going because I believe in the power of service and that no one should have to dig through trash cans to find their next meal. A wave of positive energy quickly overtook my anxious thoughts. I would soon be in the company of individuals who committed their lives to serving others, whether in the British Parliament, here in the United States, or defending human rights abroad.
Two weeks ago I received a call from the Social Office at the White House requesting my presence at the State Dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha. The White House had honored me as a "Champion of Change" a few months before, and it was a great privilege to know that I would soon have the opportunity again to represent those who work everyday to improve their communities.
I was enamored by the glamor and prestige of the top politicians and celebrities who greeted me upon arrival. While there may have been varying viewpoints and backgrounds, everyone I spoke with reminded me of the most valuable trait of service itself: anyone can serve in a multitude of capacities, whether as a Senator or a non-profit volunteer. I was in awe of how those in attendance exuded a sense of pride and passion for service to this great nation.
I am incredibly grateful to the White House for extending the invitation to dine amongst those who put service at the forefront of their work. I am also appreciative of the man I saw looking through the trash, who helped me see beyond glitz and glam to the fundamental and universal importance of why it is critical for communities to come together to provide vital service to others.
Sarah DeGrandpre is the D.C. Program Director for the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP). She was promoted from Associate Program Director after completing two years of service there as an AmeriCorps volunteer.