June 22, 2009

First Lady Asks Americans to Make Community Service Part of Daily Lives

First Lady Michelle Obama today echoed her husband’s call for Americans to make community service a part of their daily lives, urging them to avoid thinking such contributions are “helpful, but not essential.”

“This new Obama administration doesn’t view service as something separate from our national priorities,” she told the National Conference on Volunteering and Service as she kicked off the administration’s “United We Serve” campaign to get Americans to volunteer during the summer. “We have an administration that understands that service is the key to achieving our national priorities.”

Ms. Obama — who spoke after working with Maria Shriver, California’s first lady, and local volunteers to help build a playground at an elementary school in San Francisco — also announced that the four major television networks would promote national service on their programs during the week of October 19.

Under a project negotiated by the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a Hollywood charity, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC will “include service themes and plots in our favorite TV programs, showing the celebrities we love getting involved to serve their communities,” she said.

“The idea is to emphasize for viewers across the country that service is a part of who we are as Americans,” she said.

Ms. Obama, who has made volunteering and national service one of her main causes as first lady, told the audience of several thousand volunteers, nonprofit workers, and others that such work should not be something “folks do occasionally, particularly around the holidays.”

Instead, she said, “the story of progress in this nation has always been the story of people who chose — in times of trials and struggle — to serve it.”

She urged individuals, nonprofit groups, foundations, businesses, and government to take part in the United We Serve campaign.

“Everything from organizing carpools and bike-to-work programs, to reading to children and registering people for library cards, to organizing community health drives and working with senior centers to promote exercise, to collecting and delivering food for families in need.”

She noted the “summer of service” will culminate with activities on September 11, which has been dubbed a National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of the victims of the 2001 terrorist acts. But, she said, “this summer is just a preview of what’s to come.”

She directed people to, an administration Web site that matches people to volunteer projects. The campaign will focus on community and economic renewal, energy independence, education, and health care.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, spoke before the first lady. But someone less famous introduced Ms. Obama — Laura Kaneko, a member of the national-service program AmeriCorps who is working at the nonprofit group Girls Incorporated of Alameda County.