What inspires us to serve? What is it about our national character that makes service to others such an essential part of what unites us as a people?
Many would say that it comes from the founding principles that were enshrined in our Constitution. Or that it was instilled in us by people who changed history by sacrificing to improve the lives of their fellow citizens – people like Cesar Chavez or Jane Addams or my predecessor Frances Perkins.
But I think it’s much simpler than that. When we look around our communities and see people in need of a helping hand, we invariably find someone right beside them, stepping up and doing what needs to be done. It comes from personal experience. That’s certainly been the case in my life. I come from a very tight-knit community in Southern California, where I was raised by immigrants. All around me, I saw how the kindness and generosity of strangers transformed lives. We lifted each other up.
When President Obama prepared to take the oath of office four years ago, the first family commemorated the occasion by dedicating a day to others in need. It was a tribute to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this week. Now, four years later, the president is preparing to take that oath a second time, and the National Day of Service is more vibrant than ever. I’m confident that this tradition will become a permanent feature of American life.
Today, I’m serving with the men and women of CASA de Maryland, a community organization based in Hyattsville, Md., to help more than 300 young people fill out paperwork during a community citizenship workshop. The president has made clear that immigration reform is a top priority for his second term, and I’m hopeful that the time for fixing a broken system and expanding opportunity to those who dream of earning their place in this great democracy is near.
Last June, President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security announced a policy, known as deferred action, that allows certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children and do not present a risk to national security or public safety to be considered for relief from removal from the country. To date, more than 300,000 people have requested deferred action, and more than 53,000 have had it granted. I’m helping more young people submit similar requests today, because that’s 300 more individuals who may have the freedom to participate in our society without fear, 300 more young people who may have the chance to give back and make a difference in their communities.
When we give our time and our talent to brighten the life of one person in our community, we have no idea where it will lead, or how many people it will affect. Our service defines us. And it doesn’t just last a single day. It lasts a lifetime.
Please join me and millions of others throughout our country who are dedicating themselves to serving others today and every day. You can visit 2013pic.org/service to find out more about National Day of Service events and search for opportunities to serve where you live.