Stories of Service

04/15/2015 11:31 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

“The spirit of volunteerism, one of the hallmarks of American life, has rarely been stronger than it is today…American volunteers are improving the quality of life… in the United States and working to improve the quality of life for others in distant corners of the world.”

The year was 1974. Hank Aaron had just broken Babe Ruth's home run record and UPC codes were introduced as a major new technological innovation. America was in an energy crisis, and in the midst of the Watergate scandal. And on April 20, 1974, President Richard Nixon introduced the first National Volunteer Week with the words above, in an address to the nation.

Seventeen years later, President George H. W. Bush ushered in what many have long recognized as the birth of the U.S. service movement, when he shared the following words, also in a presidential address:

We all have something to give…if you know how to read, find someone who can't. If you've got a hammer, find a nail. If you're not hungry, not lonely, not in trouble, seek out someone who is. Join the community of conscience. Do the hard work of freedom. And that will define the state of our Union.

In the 25 years since then, overall volunteer rates have increased by more than 60 percent and young people are engaged twice as much. Service has been embraced and employed as an effective strategy for addressing big national issues, from raising graduation rates to supporting the re-integration of post-9/11 veterans. We’re in a time of great momentum, but there’s far more to accomplish.

During this year’s National Volunteer Week, Points of Light is celebrating the brilliant diversity of our nation’s volunteers throughout history and into today. We are lifting up the stories of iconic change-makers who have impacted the country in lasting ways and community volunteers who are improving lives and communities, every day.

Here’s a quick look at our week-long celebration:

On Monday, April 13, we celebrated Girl Scouts founder and Points of Light national monument (formerly known as the Extra Mile Pathway) honoree Juliette Gordon Low. We also recognized Daily Point of Light Award winner #5455, Imani Henry. Both demonstrate the power of family and the potential of our country’s young leaders. Recognizing the need for mentors, 14-year-old Imani started 100 Men Reading to bring positive male role models – like the men in her family – into preschools, childcare centers and elementary schools in her Wilmington community, to improve literacy. Through her effort, more than 2,000 volunteers have worked with children in over 125 schools.  If you are as inspired by Imani's story as I am, I hope you'll join me and others - including generationOn Celebrity Youth Ambassadors and actresses Emmy Perry (Wiener Dog Internationals) and Emily Robinson (A New York Fairy Tale) - in saluting Imani on social media.

On Tuesday, April 14, we honored National Mental Health Association founder and Points of Light national monument honoree Clifford Beers. We also recognized Daily Point of Light Award winner #5456, Krystol Stinson. Both demonstrate how caring and engaged citizens can help address mental health issues through volunteer service. Points of Light Service Ambassador and Grammy Award winning poet J. Ivy gave a shout-out to Krystol on social media, and it’s not too late to join the chorus!

Today, April 15, we celebrate women’s rights advocate and Points of Light national monument honoree Susan B. Anthony. We also recognize Daily Point of Light Award winner #5457, Somy Ali. Both demonstrate the power of volunteer service and advocacy to improve human and civil rights - and even spark a movement! ABC News correspondent and Daily Point of Light Award winner #1098 Rebecca Jarvis will congratulate Somy via social media.

On Thursday, April 16, more than 60 veterans participating in the Wounded Warrior Projects Soldier Ride will receive the lifetime achievement President’s Volunteer Service Award at the White House. The veterans being honored will receive the program’s highest distinction for serving more than 4,000 volunteer hours during their lifetime. Daily Point of Light Award winner #4853 and Detroit Lions football player Israel Idonije will recognize Daily Point of Light Award winner #5458 Tony Heath on social media. ​UPS employee by day, Tony Heath is also the founder of the Better Living Center, a center that assists low-income residents by providing food in an area with no grocery stores, helping with job searches, providing clothing, offering health education and screenings and striving to provide individual solutions to individual challenges.

On Friday, April 17, we will celebrate United Farm Workers of America founder and Points of Light national monument honoree Cesar Chavez. We will also recognize Daily Point of Light Award winner #5459, Miles Lin. Both demonstrate powerful examples of how volunteering and community-organizing can drastically improve lives and communities. You can join celebrity chef and Daily Point of Light #5068 Jose Andres to congratulate Miles and his family. Actors from the TV show Fresh Off the Boat Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen will also join the cheer via social media. 

And on Saturday, April 18, Points of Light and generationOn will host a one-of-a-kind Block Party at the Fox Studio lot in Hollywood to recognize Hasbro Community Action Heroes who are making a difference in their local communities, and WME (William Morris Endeavor) for their extraordinary commitment to youth and arts education in communities around the world. The Block Party will take place on the final day of National Volunteer Week and will serve as an opportunity for families from across Los Angeles to join the chorus of young voices saying “yes” to the call to serve. Many young celebrities including The Foster’s Ashley Argota; Girl Meets World’s Rowan Blanchard, Corey Fogelmanis and August Maturo; Parenthood’s Tyree Brown and Xolo Maridueña; and Dog with a Blog’s Francesca Capaldi will join families at the Block Party to help amplify the call for kids to make their mark on the world through service. For more information or to purchase tickets, please contact Lauran Huff.

President Bush said that the definition of a successful life includes service to others. I think about those words often, and find great hope and inspiration in the daily acts of service I see around me. 

Especially this week, I want to thank you for your service - for doing the hard work of freedom that defines our union. And, I want to invite you to share your volunteer story with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using #NVW2015 as part of our “What’s Your Story” campaign.  You just never know how it will inspire someone else along the way.