Buenas tardes a todos! Es un placer estar aqui con ustedes!
Thank you, Victoria, for that gracious introduction and for your tremendous efforts as an AmeriCorps member with the Latin American Youth Center. I also want to thank NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguia, and board chairman, Daniel Ortega, for the invitation to be here today. Many thanks to Governor Perry, Mayor Castro, Secretary Andrade, and Senator Menendez for your support of this conference.
I am here with you today to both honor La Raza’s own extraordinary legacy of service and also issue you a challenge. The President has asked all of us, every American, to become engaged in some way in our communities; that every American become engaged in solving problems.
I want to invite you to work with the Corporation to achieve three goals: First, join with us in making service a solution for the big problems facing our communities and our country. Second, help us spread the word about the transformative power of service. And finally, work with us to engage more Latinos in national service.
First, we must make service a solution.
Since coming to the Corporation in February, I have had one overriding message; Service is a solution. None of us does this work simply because it feels good. All of us, everyone here in this room, do this work because we want to add – bit by bit, day by day – one more building block to the construction of our more perfect union. We look around and see almost half of Latino youth dropping out of high school. We see poverty. We see our communities struggling. Rather than turning away from these challenges, you say, “No. Not on my watch.” And you choose not to be bystanders but to be problem-solvers for our communities.
You choose to embrace the challenge with the conviction and courage to be part of the solution rather than just be a witness to the problem. It’s that passion that inspires me and inspires you, so that instead of saying, “I hope I made a difference.” We can say, “I know I made a difference.”
These issues we face everyday are too big, and their success too critical to be left to the chance of good intentions. These problems will be solved only if we have the courage to stand for something that matters. To stand for results. The kind of results that NCLR AmeriCorps members have achieved in raising achievement and reading levels among Hispanic youth across the country. For example, NCLR AmeriCorps members have provided tutoring to more than 2,300 children and adults with 85 percent of those recipients increasing their academic performance by one grade-level or more. That’s what I call making a difference.
Second, we must spread the word about the transformative power of service.
I came to this country as an immigrant, and what has always struck me as uniquely American is the passion that people in this country have for serving their communities.
For many of us, service is not only a way to help others; it is a stepping stone to a better life. I saw this transformative power recently when I visited Hope for the Homeless. This program is changing the face of AmeriCorps.
Hope for the Homeless has recruited AmeriCorps members who have lived the very lives they are trying to change. Many of them spent the better part of their lives in prison or on the streets. But the stories they shared with me, all of them – every single one of them – spoke of the transformational power of their work as AmeriCorps members. Those members, through the Hope for the Homeless program, are leading lives of purpose, leading lives of meaning, and learning what it means to have people depend on them – believe in them.
I was struck. Not just by their stories, but also by how similar their stories were to those I’ve heard from other AmeriCorps members – from NCCC members in Colorado and Mississippi, from VISTA volunteers in West Virginia, and from Senior Companions right here in Texas.
Finally, we must engage Latinos of all ages to solve problems through service in our communities.
Our recently release annual Volunteering in America report shows that more than 4.8 million Hispanic adults volunteered through formal organizations last year – an increase of 211,000 over the previous year. This is the third year in a row Hispanic volunteering has increased. And while I know that many in our communities volunteer through informal networks, service participation in the Latino community continues to lag behind the national average. That is why, with the expansion of AmeriCorps, we are specifically targeting traditionally under-represented communities to encourage more people to experience the rewards and impact of service.
As leaders in your communities, we need your help in bringing more Latinos into the service movement. This is important for two reasons: First, as I mentioned earlier, service benefits both those serving and the communities being served.
On July 4, I had the honor of speaking at the naturalization ceremony for about 100 new immigrants at George Washington's historic home, Mt. Vernon. I shared with that group of new citizens that as an immigrant myself, I understood the pride they felt in that moment; a pride I hope many others have the opportunity to experience.
I also told them that, as immigrants, none of us would be here today if it were not for the helping hand of a parent or a teacher or maybe a neighbor from our city, our town, or our village, who believed in us and wanted to see us succeed.
It’s now our turn. It’s our turn to give to those we see around us in our communities. Because we are Americans, because we earned our way here, it is our responsibility – our duty – to become fully engaged citizens.
The second reason we need to involve more Latinos in service is that, as the President and First Lady have repeatedly said, the answers to America’s most pressing problems won’t come from Washington. The answers will come from the ingenuity, creativity, and the commitment of people in communities; in all communities.
As I stand here today, in this time of such great need across our country, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. But I also know that we at the Corporation are up to the challenge, and I know that you at La Raza are up to the challenge. And I know that together we can all make a difference.
During this conference and in the days to follow, let’s continue to challenge one another to tackle the big problems, to focus on results, and to engage our communities in service. As Cesar Chavez once said, “Once societal change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
We have the opportunity to make this future – this dream – a reality for all of us.