When I graduated from college, I had a great opportunity to return home and dedicate myself to serving the community that had given me so much. I was fortunate to receive an Echoing Green Fellowship, an opportunity that allowed me to launch the Elmwood Youth Enrichment Program, an afterschool and day camp for young children at the Elmwood Community Center in Providence, Rhode Island. I believed then - and continue to believe now - that by expanding access to high quality after-school programming, children from backgrounds similar to mine would have a better chance of succeeding in school, in college and beyond.
Service was important to me. I was raised in Providence by my mother, a graceful and hard-working Dominican immigrant who worked long hours in Providence's factories to ensure my sister, brother and I had everything we needed. With the help of many incredible teachers and mentors along the way, I went from Head Start to Harvard University, and I did it through the Providence public school system.
Today, as Mayor of the City of Providence, I am inspired daily by the thousands of Rhode Islanders who challenge themselves every day to find ways to improve their communities. Right now, we have AmeriCorps members serving in nearly 60 different locations throughout our City. From early childhood education centers and community libraries, to non-profit arts organizations and pediatrician's offices, these passionate young adults are putting in the long-hours needed to ensure that even the most vulnerable members of our city have access to the types of supports and programming necessary for their wellbeing.
Together, they're changing lives and changing communities, for the better.
There is no doubt that we are a stronger country thanks to the forward-thinking leadership of leaders like President Kennedy and President Johnson, who worked to establish our first VISTA program nearly half a century ago. I am inspired today by the words of advice President Johnson offered those volunteers many years ago: "Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man."
One thing I have learned as Mayor of the City of Providence is that government cannot do it alone. We need partners. Here in Providence it's our colleges and universities, programs like City Year and Teach For America, and the countless neighborhood organizations, community groups and small businesses who pitch in daily to make our City a better place in which to open business or raise a family.
Like the generation before ours, we too face pressing challenges, both abroad and in our own neighborhoods. I worry that today we face not only a deficit of dollars, but - increasingly - a deficit of inspiration. We need to once again believe, as a country, in our ability to work together to solve big challenges. Meeting the many young people who are dedicating their careers to national service - whether for a year or a lifetime - reaffirms my belief in our ability to affect lasting change in our communities.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute to recognize the power of national service, in conjunction with the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the AmeriCorps legislation on September 20th. The Franklin Project is a policy program at the Aspen Institute working to create a 21st century national service system that challenges all young people to give at least one year of full-time service to their country. To see all the posts in this series, click here. To learn more about the Franklin Project, click here.