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President Obama Calls for American Generosity in Time of Crisis

Feb 25, 2009

Calls for Passage of Serve America Act; AmeriCorps Alum Guest in First Lady’s Box

Washington D.C. – In his address to a joint session of Congress last night, President Obama called on the ingenuity and can-do spirit of the American people to help the nation recover and rebuild from its economic crisis.

“While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” the President said.

"Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.”

The President called on Congress to pass the Serve America Act, bipartisan legislation introduced last month by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to expand national and community service opportunities for all Americans.

“And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.”

The legislation, which has 21 cosponsors, would expand opportunities for Americans to serve at every stage of life and focus service on solving pressing challenges, such as tackling the dropout crisis and strengthening schools; improving energy efficiency; safeguarding the environment; improving health care; expanding economic opportunities for low-income individuals; and preparing for and responding to disasters and emergencies.

“The President understands the power of service to change lives and is counting on Americans from all walks of life to help address the problems we face,” said Alan Solomont, Board Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who was in the House chamber for the President’s speech. “In this time of unprecedented need, we need more Americans to serve – and we have to provide the necessary support and resources to maximize the impact of their service.”

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama saluted the American spirit of service and called for a new era of personal responsibility. During the campaign, the President said that service will be a central cause of his presidency, and his service and innovation agenda includes expanding AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 annual positions, engaging more retiring Americans in service, expanding service-learning in our nation's schools, and seeding innovation and strengthening the capacity of the nonprofit sector

Expanding opportunities for Americans to serve has also been an early focus of the 111th Congress. This morning, the House Education and Labor Committee will hold its first full committee hearing this session on “Renewing America through National Service and Volunteerism” with witnesses including recording artist Usher Raymond IV, TIME Magazine managing editor Richard Stengel, former Senator Harris Wofford, and others. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress and signed by the President earlier this month, contains funds to expand AmeriCorps to engage more citizens in meeting critical social and economic needs.

One AmeriCorps alum had a choice seat to watch the President’s speech. Roxanna Garcia Marcus, who served for two years as an AmeriCorps member with City Year, was invited to view the speech from First Lady Michelle Obama’s box. A Florida native, Marcus first came to the Washington, DC, area to serve in City Year, a youth service corps for young people age 17-24 that provides a year of full-time community service, leadership development, and civic engagement. A first-generation American, Roxanna said she was drawn to the opportunity to give back to her community and country in a meaningful and lasting way. Marcus currently serves as the Development Manager for Year Up, an intensive training program that provides urban young adults with technical and professional skills, college credits, an educational stipend and corporate apprenticeship. Marcus cites her AmeriCorps experience with changing her career focus to the nonprofit sector.

“If there is one common experience I wish for every American, it’s to know the power of service – to have the opportunity to be a part of something larger than yourself and make a positive impact on your community. AmeriCorps gave me my opportunity,” Marcus said. “I am thrilled to see national service become such a focus of the President and Congress and feel we are on the cusp of a big expansion of opportunities for all Americans to serve their communities.”

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Samantha Jo Warfield
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