Highlights Importance of Service to Her Life and Obama Agenda
Washington DC -- Calling service “the reason that I breathe” and a cause “near and dear to my heart,” First Lady Michelle Obama gave an impassioned address about the central importance of service in her life and in the Obama Administration's vision for America's future to employees of the Corporation for National and Community Service this afternoon. (Read the First Lady's remarks)
The First Lady was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation when she entered the auditorium after being introduced by Corporation Acting CEO Nicola Goren. Surrounded by members of the Corporation's Board of Directors, senior staff, and 22 of the longest-serving agency employees, the First Lady spoke to about 540 staff gathered at Reagan Building and listening by phone from state offices and AmeriCorps NCCC campuses across the country.
The First Lady called the visit with Corporation employees “a special one for me, because national service helped to transform my career.” She spoke about her path to public service including founding Chicago Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program. “As you know, national and community service is near and dear to my heart. It is the reason that I breathe.”
She went on to say that “It should be a part of everyone's life. From the moment someone can walk to the day they leave this planet, service should be a part of how we give back, how we say thank you, how we express our gratitude for the lives that we've been given. And I know you all understand that, and you can help to spread that message.”
The First Lady thanked Corporation employees for their hard work over many years and lifted their sights to the journey ahead helping to usher in a new era of service and responsibility in America. “I know how hard you have all worked, how hard the people on this stage, many of whom have been here more than 15 years, have worked to get us where we are today. And I am personally grateful to all of you all for your belief in this possibility, for your dedication.”
She noted the critical work that lies ahead in implementing the recently-signed Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. “Now that we've got this Act passed, we're going to need you now more than ever, because we've got a lot to do…. We're going to need you every step of the way feeling just as encouraged, just as excited, even more so, ready to roll up your sleeves, put in more time, and really push service to the point in this nation where it belongs.”
The First Lady's call to action came hours before Acting CEO Nicola Goren, Chief of Program Operations Kristin McSwain, and General Counsel Frank Trinity departed for Springfield, Missouri, where the Corporation will hold the first of six Listening Sessions on implementing the Serve America Act tomorrow. The sessions, and a new web tool launched today, are aimed at getting input from the public as the agency gets ready to implement the legislation when it takes effect on October 1.
In her introduction of the First Lady, Goren praised employees for their dedication and commitment and thanked them for putting extra hours over the past few months, noting that “what was supposed to be a quiet transition turned into the greatest expansion in volunteerism in a generation.”
Goren also spoke of the First Lady’s deep commitment to service. “First Lady Michelle Obama has made service and volunteering a life calling. It’s not just part of what she does – it’s part of who she is. It’s in her blood… Through her actions and words, she is encouraging Americans from all walks of life to serve the nation and help address the problems we face. And she is helping to leverage a whole new generation of Americans who are making service a part of their daily lives.”
Her visit also came during AmeriCorps Week, an annual recognition to salute the 574,000 individuals who have served in AmeriCorps, thank the community partners that make their service possible, and recruit more Americans into service. More than 350 AmeriCorps Week events are taking place across the country including service projects, recruitment fairs, and recognition events.
The First Lady discussed her personal journey growing up in Chicago, rising to a high-paying legal job, and then shifting her career into public service – a journey that led to where she is today. Her experience founding and running the Chicago Public Allies AmeriCorps program had a transforming effect on her life.
“For those of you who have committed your lives to careers in service, you probably know what I'm talking about. You probably understand that feeling that you get when you help somebody achieve their goals, when you help a group of young people learn more about themselves by working with others, when you hire young diverse people, and you see them grow and develop. There is nothing more fulfilling. It's an opportunity to put your faith into action in a way that regular jobs don't allow; to use your larger talents for the greater good.”
The First Lady thanked Corporation Board Chair Alan Solomont and other Board members for their leadership and commitment to service. The Corporation's 15-member bipartisan board sets overall policy and direction for the agency and its programs and has played a key role in the transition and the passage of the Serve America Act. Board Chair Alan Solomont, Vice-Chair Stephen Goldsmith, and members Hyepin Im, Eric Tanenblatt, and Laysha Ward were on stage.
President Obama's pledge to make service a central cause of his presidency has resulted in major achievements in the first four months of the Administration. The early victories include a a record turnout of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the inclusion of $200 million in the Recovery Act to support up to 13,000 new AmeriCorps positions, a FY 2010 budget that proposes a 29% increase for the Corporation and its programs, and the passage of landmark Serve America Act, which will both expand existing programs and create new initiatives to engage more Americans in service and spur innovation in the nonprofit sector.
In thanking the agency employees for their hard work on these and other efforts, she inspired them for the long climb ahead, noting the key role of the Corporation in bridging the sectors to engage Americans in solving problems through service.
“We're at a critical time in our nation's history, and we need all the hands-on-deck kind of experience we can get to help solve these big problems. And as you know, government resources are scarce. As you know, philanthropic dollars are dwindling. So it's imperative that we all use our resources more effectively. And the Corporation for National Community Service is the link between the government, non-profits, foundations, community organizers, and social entrepreneurs. You play that important role of bringing them all together.”