Washington D.C. – In a rousing address to a fired-up gathering of YouthBuild AmeriCorps members on the National Mall today, First Lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of community service in rebuilding lives and reinforced the Administration’s commitment to expanding service opportunities for all Americans.
“Community service is an integral part of empowering our people and making our communities stronger. And service must become a part of each of our lives," said Mrs. Obama. “At a time in our nation when so many are struggling, we have to remember that everyone can make a difference and that we all have something to contribute.” (Click here to read her full remarks)
Mrs. Obama spoke to YouthBuild AmeriCorps leaders from across the country who spent the day learning about green construction techniques and building a green house that will be transported to a Texas family whose mobile home was destroyed by a hurricane. Before speaking, Mrs. Obama visited exhibits on recycling, solar electricity, weatherization, and rooftop gardening.
The event was part of 30th anniversary of YouthBuild U.S.A., a national organization that helps at-risk youth work toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while building affordable housing for poor or homeless people. Since 1984, more than 84,000 YouthBuild students have produced more than 18,000 units of low-income housing. YouthBuild has been part of AmeriCorps since 1994 and is one of the largest AmeriCorps programs.
Mrs. Obama spoke of the transforming effect service has on a person’s life, citing the President’s experience as a community organizer in Chicago as the time when he "found his own direction, a direction that would bring him to where he is today, the president of the United States of America. And all of that came through service, giving, contributing."
She recounted how she didn't realize the importance of public service until she stopped being a corporate lawyer in Chicago. “But it wasn't until I stepped away from the corporate track and worked in city government and eventually helped to found the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program, a national service program, that I realized how important public service and community service was to my own development.”
Mrs. Obama also discussed the important federal role in encouraging Americans to serve and supporting the infrastructure for national service, and noted the extraordinary volunteer turnout on the Martin Luther King Day of Service and how Americans are increasingly turning to volunteering in these tough economic times.
“For the last 16 years, the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes AmeriCorps, has enabled millions of Americans to strengthen their neighborhoods and to help tackle some of the nation's most intractable problems. And during the campaign, Barack laid out a plan to expand these programs. The plan called upon Americans from all walks of life to take part in civic renewal and serve their communities, and he made a commitment to promise to build the infrastructure that will enable them to do that.”
Mrs. Obama commended House and Senate leaders from both parties who are acting quickly on the request President Obama made in his joint address to Congress last month to pass legislation to strengthen and expand national service programs.
On Wednesday, the House is expected to vote on H.R. 1388, the GIVE Act, and on the same day the Senate HELP Committee is taking up the Serve America Act, sponsored by Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch. These bipartisan bills would extend and overhaul national service laws, put AmeriCorps on a path to expand from 75,000 to 250,000 annual positions, engage more retiring Americans in service, expand service-learning in our nation's schools, and seed innovation and strengthen the capacity of the nonprofit sector.
The day-long event featured many national leaders including Senator John Kerry, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, YouthBuild’s founder Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild young leaders, and Corporation for National and Community Service Board Chairman Alan Solomont and Acting CEO Nicola Goren.
In the closing ceremony, Solomont described the current economic crisis as an unprecedented moment of need and opportunity for national service, and thanked the President and Congressional leaders for seizing this moment and helping to usher in a new generation of national service programs. Solomont announced that the Corporation will add to its existing investment in YouthBuild by supporting a new national partnership that will place at least 100 new AmeriCorps VISTA members in fifty YouthBuild programs across the country over the next year. These VISTAs will strengthen local YouthBuild programs by attracting new resources, planning new projects, and expanding their capacity.
“YouthBuild and the Corporation share a common vision – to help every young person fulfill their full potential in life,” said Solomont. “We see young people as leaders and problem-solvers, and we believe the emerging generation of young people – the Millennial Generation – is especially committed to the idea of serving a cause larger than themselves.”
Acting CEO Nicola Goren helped kick off the day at opening ceremony by saluting YouthBuild for taking new steps to incorporate green building and energy efficiency techniques into their building. “Going green helps our nation in so many ways --- it reduces dependence on imported energy, cuts heating bills, reduces pollution, and helps create new ‘green collar’ jobs of the future She also thanked the YouthBuild AmeriCorps members for answering the call to service and making a difference in this time of economic crisis.