02/11/2013 01:51 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

Service Strengthens America

As we begin another countdown to looming federal funding reductions, decision makers in Washington are looking for creative ways to avert the impact of potentially devastating cuts.

In this pressured fiscal environment, leaders across the country are heralding the role national service and community volunteering play in effectively and efficiently addressing the kinds of local challenges that will be further exacerbated by the pending cuts. Through national service and volunteering, ordinary citizens are being deployed in struggling communities across the country to improve access to health care, help students succeed in school, rebuild communities after disaster, and enable seniors to live independently.

Tonight, Voices for National Service and The Corps Network are celebrating local, state and national leaders who have worked to preserve and expand opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds around the country to roll up their sleeves to move the needle on some of the most pressing challenges facing our communities.

The leaders we are honoring tonight have fought to ensure that citizens remain at the center of public problem solving and innovation at the local level. They have worked hard to protect and expand federal investment in the programs led by the Corporation for National and Community Service which leverages nearly $1 billion in philanthropic and corporate support annually and engages 5 million Americans in service each year. And they have looked for creative ways to expand service, lifting up the extraordinary ways in which people across this country are making a measurable difference in their own communities.

President William J. Clinton is being honored for a lifetime of championing national service and especially for the creation of AmeriCorps. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the National and Community Trust Act of 1993, which brought to life this remarkable public-private partnership that is getting things done in communities large and small, urban and rural across the country. More than 800,000 Americans have served since the program's inception, earning $2.4 billion in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards. Last year alone there were 582,000 applications for just 80,000 positions.

As the First Spouse of the state of Nebraska and Honorary Chair of the Nebraska Service Commission, Sally Ganem has been a powerful voice for the essential role that national service and community volunteering play in strengthening Nebraska communities by working to showcase the many ways that citizens are making a difference and by recognizing and celebrating their work.

Craig Middleton, the recipient of the Citizen Service Award, is leading the charge to create a new National Center for Service and Innovation Leadership at historic Fort Scott, which will be a new home to the service movement and will help to develop a new generation of purpose-driven leaders for our country. Heather Mizeur, an AmeriCorps alumna herself, has championed national service as a Delegate in the Maryland General Assembly by introducing legislation to make the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award tax free in the state of Maryland.

Joplin, Missouri City Manager Mark Rohr, recipient of the Local Leadership Award, was the backbone of disaster response efforts in the wake of the 2011 Joplin tornado and put AmeriCorps NCCC members at the center of the recovery effort there. Missouri State Representatives Bill White (R-Joplin) and Charlie Davis (R-Duquesne), recipients of the State Leadership Award for innovation in leveraging national service to meet state needs, introduced a House Resolution honoring the work of AmeriCorps that shed important light on the vital role national service plays in disaster recovery across the country.

Mayors Karl Dean of Nashville, Tennessee and Mark Stodola of Little Rock, Arkansas, both recipients of the Local Leadership award, are paving the way in identifying innovative ways to leverage national service to address local challenges. Each of them have developed comprehensive plans and coordinated strategies to match volunteers and community partners to meet the areas of greatest local need in their cities.

The leadership and commitment of champions at the federal level is vital to the health of tens of thousands of national service and community volunteering programs across the country that rely on modest federal support. Senators Barbara Mikulski, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand and Marco Rubio, Representative Tom Latham and former Senator Jeff Bingaman have worked hard to protect and expand opportunities for Americans to serve because they recognize that especially in times of tight budgets and a difficult economy, service is an essential and cost-effective way to solve problems and engage citizens.

It is easy in today's fiscal and political reality to focus on the things that divide us. Today we pause to express our gratitude for the strong bipartisan support national service enjoys from creative and imaginative leaders across the country and especially to our honorees for their extraordinary support and visionary leadership. It is these leaders, alongside the millions of Americans who contribute their time and expertise to organizations across the country, who unite our nation through service every day.