07/15/2013 11:47 am ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

Continuing West Virginia's Tradition of Public Service During the National Scout Jamboree

What does public service and giving back mean to you? For some it's about giving back to their community by volunteering at a homeless shelter or the local animal rescue. For others it's about tutoring at-risk children after the regular school day ends. For others, it's about giving a neighbor a helping hand when they need it. For the people of West Virginia, public service and giving back is a way of life.

I learned about the way West Virginians give back to their communities when I first arrived in the state almost 50 years ago, as a young VISTA volunteer. West Virginians opened their doors to me. They showed me what it meant to be part of a community and what it meant to give back. It set my moral compass and charted the direction of my life. In short, it made me who I am.

In honor of West Virginia's 150th birthday last month, and to honor the long tradition of giving that lives in the hearts and souls of all West Virginians, I've been marking a "Summer of Service" with stops across the state.

On July 12, I met with a group of Boy Scouts who are attending the National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County, West Virginia, this week. Nearly 50,000 Scouts, volunteers, and staff from across the country are currently arriving in our state for five days of biking, swimming, whitewater rafting, zip lining, and rock climbing.

But they also will challenge themselves in ways new to the national Jamboree -- by giving back to local West Virginia communities.

For the first time ever, the Jamboree is engaged in a community service effort that has ignited in extraordinary ways in West Virginia. Over a five-day period, up to 40,000 Scouts will work with groups in nine counties on more than 350 projects -- involving wellness, arts, education, infrastructure, and beautification -- totaling hundreds of thousands of service hours.

This public service initiative will make a tremendous difference in West Virginia communities. And it means that thousands of bright young Scouts will experience the unparalleled feeling that comes with helping others.

For all of these young Scouts, their experiences during this service initiative could set their inner compass toward a life of public service. This inspiring effort reflects the heart of the Boy Scouts of America -- which has a long tradition of community service -- and it speaks to the soul of West Virginia, where service is deep-rooted in our people. Where "neighbor helping neighbor" is a way of life.

While I know they will never forget soaring over West Virginia's treetops on a zip line or scaling rocks at the New River Gorge, they will also never forget the feeling that comes from cultivating playgrounds, community parks, and baseball fields. This is the long-lasting sense of pride that happens when you make a difference in the world around you, and one that West Virginians know well.

I thank the Boy Scouts of America for making this possible in so many ways, and especially at this year's Jamboree in the heartland of giving -- West Virginia.