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Are you a Point of Light: How Volunteerism Makes a Difference

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Did you ever wonder if you could really make a difference in the world?  This is something that I have wondered many times.  Could just one person really move a mountain?  I am here to tell you that one person can, and I had the opportunity to hear stories of people doing just that.

On July 15th President Obama joined President George H.W. Bush in celebrating the 5,000th Daily Point of Light.  Points of Light was the vision of President Bush.  In his 1989 inaugural address he spoke of “a thousand points of light,” and charged citizens to be those points of light through national service.  The following year he began awarding a “Daily Point of Light Award” to someone making a difference in their community.  Later that year Points of Light was founded as a non-profit and non-partisan group.

Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hammer, a husband and wife team, were the recipients of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light for their work in Tanzania.  I had the pleasure of attending this event, as press, and heard first hand their moving story.  Hamilton and Hammer were prepared to embark upon a retirement, traveling the world in their boat, then one day everything changed.  A friend of theirs suggested they travel to Tanzania on a missions trip to aid victims of HIV/AIDS.  Drought had devastated the area and children were dying from starvation.   Hamilton and Hammer decided to do something.   They founded Outreach, a non-profit that has since provided over 229 million meals to children in 15 countries, included the United States.  Two people had a vision and have changed many lives.

It is clear to me that the spirit of volunteerism has only grown since the time of President George H.W. Bush with the National and Community Service Act.  President Obama created the Office of Social Innovation and Community Partnership to find ways to strengthen service and also expanded the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (originally created by George W. Bush).

My family has always valued service, whether it was teaching a Sunday School class or serving the homeless a meal at our local Union Gospel Mission.  As a little girl I remember doing these things right along with them.   When I was in high school and college I carried on this mission they had charged me with.  Today, my children attend events with me.  It is so important to me that my children understand the importance of giving back to their community, to those that have less than them, or those that are experiencing a difficult time.  You don’t have to go to a different country like Hamilton and Hammer, it can be done right here in your own backyard.  Teaching the generation that is coming up behind us to take that mantle on themselves will be vital to maintaining the spirit of our Nation.

On July 15th, the President announced to us a special task force being created to take a fresh look at how National Service can be better supported.  It will include representatives from Cabinet agencies and departments across the government.  The importance placed on instilling pride in National Service and volunteerism by government leaders and groups like Points of Light, to me, is the key to a successful world community.   President Obama said, “Service is one of those things that brings our nation together.  It transcends politics,” and I couldn’t agree more.  It is a common ground on which we can stand.

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One of the young people honored that day was seventeen year old Yash Gupta.  Inspired by his own experience of having to wait for replacement eye glasses, he created Sight Learning, an organization that has provided $350,000 worth of eyeglasses to school age children in countries like the US, India, Mexico, Haiti and Hondurus.   He is proof that you don’t have to be of a certain age, status, or have large amounts of political influence to affect change in your world.  All it takes is a vision and the perseverance to get it done.

How are you going to make a difference?

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