It's Bipartisan: Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush Agree on Community Service

Article excerpt

Helping others through volunteer service has hit a critical mass in the United States. While that's all to the good, can such private efforts also solve big social problems, such as the high rate of high school dropouts? That was President George H.W. Bush's hope 20 years ago, when his "thousand points of light" initiative called Americans to greater community service. Mr. Bush's successors all have echoed the call, including Barack Obama, the community organizer-turned-commander in chief. The two presidents meet Friday at Texas A&M University to review the progress of volunteering and discuss its future. Service is a continuous thread in the fabric of American society. It stretches back to Benjamin Franklin's first volunteer fire department and weaves through time to today's volunteermatch.org, universalgiving.org, and serve.gov - examples of Internet sites that allow people to search for opportunities by subject and location. Volunteerism has surged in the last two decades, increasing by more than 60 percent to nearly 62 million volunteers last year. In that time, high schools have embraced community service as a necessary part of student life, and so have many colleges. Corporations routinely donate employees' skills and time. Two groups that serve much more than in 1989: youths and older Americans. This month, TV is getting in on the act by writing volunteerism into program scripts and public-service announcements. More than 90 shows on network and cable TV are joining the "I Participate" campaign to inspire viewers to repeat the good works they see on their flat-screen TVs. President Obama hopes to make community service a cornerstone of his presidency. His "United We Serve" call in June encouraged Americans to engage in their communities in a sustained, meaningful way. Under the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, Obama seeks to triple the size of AmeriCorps, whose members receive a small stipend for activities such as mentoring, cleaning up parks, and responding to emergencies. …