A Spark of Light in Texas

November 16, 2009

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a remarkable event—President Barack Obama joined President George H.W. Bush in College Station, Texas, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Points of Light movement, begun in 1989 with President Bush’s inauguration speech.
These leaders together created a poignant moment that felt charged with both historical import and timelessness, and they left several impressions worthy of reflection:
First, although it may not have been clear until recently, the modern era of government’s engagement in service really did begin with President Bush, when he added to existing federally funded programs (like Peace Corps, VISTA, and the three Senior Corps initiatives) a focused campaign to support ordinary citizens in their volunteer service through the nonprofit sector. President Obama is at least as focused on finding new ways to engage ordinary citizens in service as he is in expanding federal programs like AmeriCorps. Bush also created a White House office to coordinate these efforts, an office which each president since, including Obama, has perpetuated.
Second, citizen engagement and service have become increasingly urgent elements of solutions for critical challenges facing the United States. The discussion has moved beyond how “it feels better to give than to get,” and beyond the soft benefits that service offers in strengthening communities. The challenge was for citizens to play their role in remaking education in this country, in helping people find jobs, in overcoming environmental degradation. The shift from measuring the amount of service we generate to measuring the impact of our service has been coming for years, and President Obama made impact the centerpiece of his call to serve.
And, third, at a time of deep partisan polarization, the event showcased the ability of the nonprofit and service sectors to generate meaningful bipartisan dialogue and even agreement on critical issues facing America. Nonprofit venues can bring serious players together in contexts where our aspirations as citizens and as a nation will often trump parochial and political concerns. We need more nonprofits to leap forward, like the Points of Light Institute, to offer these venues.
For complete remarks of President Obama and President Bush go to: http://www.pointsoflight.org/PresidentialForum.

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David Eisner


Nov 14

Join Professor Joel Fleishman and the Executive Vice President for Program at the Ford Foundation, Hilary Pennington - for the Foundation Impact Re