11/08/2010 02:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Helping People Be 'Big Citizens'

When Harry Truman was leaving the White House, he said he wasn't leaving the highest office of the land, he was assuming the highest office -- that of citizen. We need to look at what's driving change in America and around the world today: the energy, idealism and innovation of citizens. Its people engaging in service, politics and movements, which is what has driven change in our country from the very beginning -- whether it was the citizen soldiers of the revolution, or the abolitionists, or the suffragettes, or the civil rights activists. It's people stepping forward to help a neighbor in need or coming together to solve persistent problems such as hunger, homelessness or the high school dropout rate.

It's people like Delores Powell. Twenty-three years ago, Delores Powell moved to the United States from Jamaica with dreams of a better life. Despite working hard as a home health aide, she struggled financially making just $100 a week. In 2004, after moving to Buffalo, NY, Delores set out to buy a home for her and her four children.

Unable to afford a realtor or lawyer, Delores negotiated her house purchase without aid, only to discover her new home was on the city's demolition list. Though Delores convinced city officials to give her time to make the repairs, after five and a half years the family's home was still unlivable.

During this time, Delores focused not just on her own problems, but began to take the whole neighborhood under her wing. As a grassroots activist, Delores partnered with the nonprofit community organization "PUSH Buffalo," which works to rebuild and improve the west side of Buffalo.

Volunteers at PUSH assisted the Delores' family with a video submission for the television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and due to their extreme need, the family was chosen for a home makeover.

Inspired by Delores's passion for helping others, WNY AmeriCorps, HandsOn Greater Buffalo, and volunteers with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, mobilized to not only help the Powell family, but the entire neighborhood. Motivated by Delores's actions, the nonprofit partners and volunteers executed an Extreme Makeover: Neighborhood Edition as the partners built her family a new home, and another 119 new homes in her community.

What we need now, especially during this time of economic hardship, are more people like Delores Powell. In my new book, I've referred to people like Delores as "Big Citizens," people prepared not to seek what their country owes them, or what they can get from it, but how they can contribute to make it stronger.

My friend Michelle Nunn and her team at HandsOn Network have created the Get HandsOn Campaign to help people be Big Citizens. Through the Campaign people can get access to tools and resources to help them assess community needs, design citizen-driven solutions and organize others to get engaged. They can also find others of like mind and come together around geographic communities or communities of interest such as helping kids succeed or increasing access to health, affordable food.

So, if you are a Big Citizen or aspire to be one, sign up for the campaign. And once you've joined, help identify or "tag" other Big citizens and in the process earn grants for your cause and prizes for yourself.

All of us have the potential to be Big Citizens and with the launch of the Get HandsOn campaign we also have the tools, resources and support network to fulfill that potential.