02/11/2014 03:24 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2014

Honoring Olympic-Sized National Service Heroes

I am inspired by the Olympics. Every two years, I sit glued to the television set, watching athletes who dedicate their lives to accomplishing a particular goal: achieving athletic greatness. They prepare tirelessly for years and persevere through physical limitation and incomprehensible odds. And, in the end, they are champions. Champions deserve to be celebrated.

This week, Voices for National Service will honor our own champions who, in my eyes, demonstrate tremendous resilience and tenacity in their efforts to fight for national service. These are leaders who, in the face of political divisiveness and complex economic circumstances, continue to work with their colleagues to carry the torch for national service.

The dedicated leaders we will honor this week share a common passion for improving the lives of people all across our country, and they know national service is the most cost-effective way to get the job done. A recent study by Columbia University economist Clive Belfield confirmed that every dollar invested in national service yields nearly $4 in benefits to society.

This year's honorees have worked relentlessly to protect and expand federal investment in the programs led by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which leverage nearly $1 billion in private support annually and engage 5 million Americans in service each year. They are also mobilizing other federal agencies to get involved, providing state and local support and shining a spotlight on the myriad ways in which national service is making a difference across our great nation.

We honor Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who has made youth programs and service a major emphasis throughout her career, announced the creation of a the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps in early January. Through the 21st Century CSC, Secretary Jewell is working to raise $20 million from private partners to provide service, work and training opportunities to 100,000 youth and veterans in the coming years to match the public investment.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who we often refer to as the "Godmother of National Service," is being honored for a lifetime of championing national service and for her pivotal role in the creation and expansion of AmeriCorps. As a social worker, community activist, and now a Member of Congress, Sen. Mikulski has brought an unparalleled passion to her roles as Co-Chair of the National Service Congressional Caucus and as the first woman to Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) will also be honored for their steadfast support of service and volunteering. Sen. Wicker, whose daughter is an active member of Volunteer Mississippi, has been a vocal supporter of FEMA Corps. He's learned firsthand the impact national service can have in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods and the oil spill along the Gulf Coast.

Sen. Wicker will be awarded the Outstanding National Service Advocacy Award along with Rep. Peter DeFazio who has been a strong champion of Senior Corps and who established the Senior Companions Program in Lane County, the first national service program in Oregon.

Earning our Distinguished Service Award is Sen. McCain who has worked tirelessly to expand the scope of national service to veterans looking to transition to civilian life. He was integral to the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and the Call to Service Act, in addition to the creation of the "citizen soldier" enlistment program that allows volunteers to serve their country in uniform without pursuing a military career.

Early in his career, Sen. Coons helped to launch an AmeriCorps program with the National I Have A Dream Foundation and the New Castle County Emergency Services Corps in Delaware. For his continued leadership and advocacy, we will honor him with the Outstanding National Service Advocacy Award.

We are also recognizing distinguished new members of Congress in their first term who understand the importance of national service and have pledged to help expand national service opportunities in the future. Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Representative Luke Messer (R-IN), who is also President of the Freshman Class in the House, will be honored with the Outstanding New Member Award.

In her role as Vice Chair of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton has lifted up the idea that every person can make a meaningful and measurable difference through service. As our recipient of the Citizen Service Award, Chelsea will be honored for establishing the Clinton Foundation Day of Action and for her vocal advocacy to make national service a common expectation and opportunity for every American.

Our Local Leadership Awards will go to two outstanding mayors who have leveraged the value of service in their cities. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer is a proud champion of the role national service can play in local schools and in the lives of the city's youth, while Mayor Dayne Walling of Flint, Michigan has channeled his experience as an AmeriCorps alumnus to combat the city's blight and crime through mobilized citizen service.

The leadership and commitment of these champions at all levels of government is vital to the health of tens of thousands of national service and community volunteering programs across the country. Mayors Scott Smith, Michael Nutter; Governor Chris Christie and all of our honorees recognize that, especially in times of fiscal restraint, service is an essential and cost-effective tool to engage citizens address community needs.

We express our gratitude to the leaders who have ensured that service has the support to stretch into schools, nonprofits, hospitals, and food banks across the country. These leaders are our champions, and we are excited to celebrate their victories this week.