A Special Moment for Service
Last night the Senate passed a bill close to the President’s heart, we asked Carlos Monje Jr., Senior Policy Advisor at the Domestic Policy Council to go explain what it meant a little more in-depth:
We had an exciting day in the White House yesterday. The Senate passed legislation to dramatically expand service opportunities for Americans of all ages. By an overwhelming vote of 79-19, the Senate approved the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, a bill that will take the next quantum leap in national service.
The legislation is important because it is core to what the President believes – that all of us need to work together to make a difference. As he said in his praise of the bill’s passage:
"Our work is not finished when I sign this bill into law – it has just begun. While our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. To do our part to lift up our fellow Americans. To realize our own true potential. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country."
The bill contains key elements of the President’s national service agenda: Creating an army of 250,000 Americans a year involved in full and part time service to address some of our nation’s greatest challenges, including healthcare, education, energy and economic opportunity; expanding service-learning to engage young-people and put them onto a pathway to service; providing better service opportunities for seniors and boomers; and establishing a Social Innovation Fund to identify and grow programs that fix tough community problems.
Public service is something close to the President and First Lady’s hearts. President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and Mrs. Obama was the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, an AmeriCorps Program. They have talked often about how service can transform individuals and the communities in which they work. Last week, the First Lady made her own case for service when she joined YouthBuild participants on the National Mall. She told the young people:
"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. It has to be an integral part of each of our lives if we're going to create a more unified nation that we all want and that our President talks so much about."
Seeing this bill moving one giant step closer to completion is a special moment. I was lucky enough to work on national service issues during the campaign, and watching these ideas move from a conference table in Chicago to the halls of Congress shows what an incredible movement the American people created in electing Barack Obama president.
More than that, I continue to be amazed by the thousands of people who have spent decades building the national service movement and believing in its potential. The men and women who serve in nonprofit groups across the country live their lives according to the creed that ‘I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.’ They make this country work and they have maintained momentum for this legislation. The employees of the Corporation for National and Community Service--many of whom have been working there since its inception in 1993—are an incredible team. They wake up every day with the sole mission of giving other Americans the chance to serve, and they have been instrumental in improving this legislation line by line.
The House and Senate Staff who have been working long nights and longer weekends are incredible professionals whose quick work will see this legislation through to final passage. And these bills would be nowhere without the work of leaders like Harris Wofford, the former U.S. Senator and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who at 82 is an indefatigable champion of service.
This is a piece of legislation everybody in the Administration will feel proud of when it’s signed, it feels close.