Civil engineering didn’t really prepare me to expect the unconventional circumstances that I found myself in while working on a water sanitation project in a village in Honduras. Without the necessary vehicles or equipment to build the system, individuals come together to come up with innovative ways to transfer materials, such as by using a donkey, and help me build a sustainable water system for their community. Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to be innovative and share in this special moment towards building a stronger infrastructure for this village.
Thousands of Americans volunteer millions of hours working to advance the lives and infrastructures of communities across the U.S., and strengthen the foundation upon which our country and future generations can continue to grow. Civic participation empowers individuals to use their volunteer experiences, domestically and abroad, to become influential leaders within their communities. Every day individuals are taking on some of the most pressing challenges that our nation faces and coming up with real solutions, whether it is to rebuild after natural disasters, fight poverty, support our veterans and military families, or strengthen our education system.
The AmeriCorps program serves communities by building long-term support systems. It also continues to serve its members by creating jobs and providing pathways for younger members to enter the workforce. It also recruits our nation’s heroes through its partnership with Joining Forces. At the beginning of the Administration, President Obama signed an act to link national service to innovation, establishing the Social Innovation Fund and expanding AmeriCorps to become our nation’s most expansive service program. Social innovation elevates community solutions to create jobs, drive economic recovery and revitalize communities.
AmeriCorps members visiting the White House shared their stories of service and innovation during a Google+ Hangout with AmeriCorps Alumni. Its members, young and old, expressed a common passion and purpose that drives them, which is to lead change in their communities. One member shared her experience with JumpStart, a member of the AmeriCorps network, which prepares children for kindergarten and keeps college students in school through the federal work study program. As a father of two, I am especially thankful for their work in strengthening our education system for our children.
The White House recently recognized the service of our Red Cross Champions of Change. Their work to build resilient communities at home and abroad has empowered individuals to save lives, take action, foster essential organizational relationships and create widespread community networks.
Just last week, we welcomed over 150 Kiwanis International members to reinforce the President’s commitment to service and the role service members play in strengthening communities across the country. Kiwanis International organizes over 150,000 service projects! Maryland high school senior and Champion of Change, Josie Grant, was recognized for coordinating the donation of $26,000 worth of items to hospitals through her own Josie’s Smiles for Pediatrics Foundation. As a first-generation college student at the University of Texas- Brownsville, Sanjuana Zavala sets aside $50 from every paycheck and $200 from every scholarship—to support The Eliminate Project, a partnership between Kiwanis International and UNICEF to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. It’s incredible how we inspire our youth, and our youth inspires us to find innovative ways to serve our fellow Americans and those in need.
Every hour of service and the generous spirit of every volunteer draw communities closer together and build the civic and economic foundation of our Nation. There are countless opportunities to serve your community, whether it is by volunteering at your local soup kitchen or rebuilding a school! Find ways to join service projects near you by visiting www.Serve.gov.
Jon Carson is a Deputy Assistant to the President and the Director of the Office of Public Engagement.