One of my most treasured possessions, which hangs in my office in the West Wing of the White House, is a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy, sent during the immigration debate of 2007. He sent a lot of them, thanking and encouraging those of us who were fighting for reform after a difficult loss. He had a way of reminding you that the opportunity to fight for something meaningful was a gift, and to take joy in doing work that serves others.
Senator Kennedy was a giant of the Senate who devoted his entire life to serving his country. The very last time I saw him was in the hallway in the West Wing, five years ago today, as he made his way to visit with President Obama who was about to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. National service was one of the great causes of his life, one which truly exemplifies the ideals that he lived every day of his nearly 50 years in the Senate.
The Serve America Act is the most sweeping expansion of national service in a generation. The bipartisan legislation expands AmeriCorps – which celebrates its 20th anniversary later this year – to historic levels and directs it toward tackling national priorities, investing in social innovation, and making it easier for people of all ages to participate in the ongoing process of national renewal. Senator Kennedy reminded us that “we do not have to compel citizens to serve their country. All we have to do is ask – and provide the opportunity."
I’m proud of President Obama’s efforts to advance the role of service in addressing our national challenges – by directing his Cabinet to expand their use of national service; by creating new positions through innovative initiatives such as FEMA Corps and School Turnaround AmeriCorps; and by integrating service as a strategy into other priorities such as expanding economic opportunity through Promise Zones or rebuilding Detroit.
There is more to be done, but the President and all of us here at the White House are proud to honor the five-year anniversary of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and celebrate a hero’s legacy by enabling more Americans to serve.