Michelle Obama Launches National Service Conference

SAN FRANCISCO — National service and volunteering took center stage yesterday (6/22) as First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about two new volunteering initiatives this year during the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering & Service in San Francisco.

“You’re the movers and shakers who’ve made giving back cool and made volunteering a nationwide movement,” she said to more than 4,000 people gathered for the opening plenary of the three-day conference.

Speakers included the First Lady, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, musician Jon Bon Jovi and actor Matthew McConaughey.

The First Lady announced an initiative where national service will be at the center of television programming this fall on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, which The Nonprofit Times reported exclusively last week.

During the week of October 19, the major four networks and others will intertwine service into show plots and story lines. The initiative, created by Los Angeles-based The Entertainment Industry Foundation, will collaborate with The White House, AARP and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), as well as Points of Light Institute and 200 other organizations that were part of the ServiceNation Summit held this past September.

The First Lady also talked about United We Serve – an initiative President Obama announced via video message on June 17, calling all Americans to incorporate service and volunteerism into their lives this summer as a part of a national initiative led by the CNCS.

United We Serve will kicked off yesterday and will run for 81 days, culminating in a National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11.

The First Lady described the surging in service and volunteering, with more than 35,000 applying for 4,000 slots for Teach for America and AmeriCorps applications quadrupling. But she urged that volunteer and service organizations still have important jobs ahead of them.

“When our economy falters, you’re the ones who deal with the fallout – more folks needing those food pantries; more families needing help to stay in their homes and pay their bills; cities and states cutting services, leaving so many people with nowhere to turn,” she said.

“And just as more people desperately need your help, you’ve got fewer resources at your disposal — so you’re making do with less staff, working longer hours, stretching every dollar even further. So you know better than just about anyone how badly we need change right now,” said the First Lady.

The First Lady explained that national service would be key to achieving national priorities, especially in the administration’s focus areas of clean energy, education and healthcare, and emphasized that the government can’t change the world without the help of volunteers.

“But at the end of the day, there’s only so much we can do from Washington. Government can’t be everywhere and do everything — we need active, engaged citizens like all of you to step up and do their part too,” she said.

The newly-announced initiatives are just two parts of administration’s overall plan to extend national service. On April 21, the President signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would cost approximately $5.7 billion during the next six years.

The Serve America Act includes tripling the strength of AmeriCorps, from 75,000 to 250,000 volunteers each year, and establishing Encore Fellowships, a one-year fellowship for Americans 50 and older.   

“We all know that our challenges are great and that we’ve got a long, hard road ahead of us. But standing here today with all of you — people who love this country and have devoted your lives to helping people share in its promise — I feel nothing but hope for our future,” she said.