October 22nd, 2016 has been designated as “Make a Difference Day”. It is one day when groups of people will come together to make a difference and enact a positive change for their communities. During this series we have been discussing how to turn this ordinary time into an extraordinary time. That is the thought behind Make a Difference Day and the volunteers that will live it.
“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.” These words were embedded in the inaugural speech of President George H. W. Bush in 1989. Two years earlier Ken Giddon had joined with others to start New York Cares. The volunteer management organization was created to address social issues that were plaguing the city. These volunteers nor operate over thirteen hundred nonprofits, city agencies, and public schools based upon one common belief – Everyone has a role to play in making their world a better place.
One year after he gave his speech referencing a thousand points of light, President George H. W. Bush honored more than one thousand volunteers for being “points of light” in their communities. The Points of Light Foundation was created as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to encourage and empower the spirit of service. The nonprofit extended President Bush’s vision, understanding that “what government alone can do is limited, but the potential of the American people knows no limits.”
During the first year of his presidency President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act which created AmeriCorps, a national service program engaging Americans in voluntary action to help correct some of the country’s most critical issues. A year later the Corporation for National and Community Service began operation as a federal agency through which millions of American donated time and talents in such outreach services as Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America.
In 1997 the Presidents’ Summits for America’s Future brought together Presidents Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford as well as first lady Nancy Reagan. The country’s social issues were addressed and all of those on the panel mentioned above discussed their roles in meeting the needs of the country and world and how voluntary action could be part of the solution to many problems and issues.
In 2001 the United Nations proclaimed the Year of the Volunteer and over one thousand agencies worldwide came together to work together, regardless of race, color, or creed. In 2004 City Cares, which had expanded to some US Cities, changed its name to HandsOn Network and went global. In 2009 the Edward M. Kennedy Service America Act reinvigorated America’s call on volunteerism. Twenty years after he had first uttered the words, President George H. W. Bush and President Barrack Obama met to renew the plan of action for the nation’s volunteer workforce in addressing critical needs.
Hurricane disaster relief, foreign country disaster relief, community block organizations, crisis centers, afterschool programs, and food banks are just a few of the many programs helping propel America forward through the actions of its volunteers. These wonderful acts that were successful were not conducted by geniuses or highly skilled individuals. They were the works of ordinary people volunteering their time and efforts because they cared.
In 2013 the Points of Light Foundation and HandsOn Network merged, renewing their commitment for humanitarian efforts, the manifestation of faith and the spirit of caring for one’s fellow man. To date the merged foundation performs over two hundred and fifty thousand service projects each year in over thirty different countries. Thirty millions hours of volunteer service are clocked each calendar year with an annual dollar value of volunteer hours reaching six hundred and thirty five million dollars annually.
This was not done by someone sitting on the couch watching television, doing nothing. Some sat on the couch watching television as they made blankets or hats or scarves for those in need. Others left their couches and helped prepare food for the hungry and destitute. Still more helped clean up weather-ravaged areas while others sorted through donations of clothing and helped established distribution channels for such aid.
They all acted. They all did something. We can all do something. We cannot all do everything but we can do something. I am but one person; however, I am one person and that one person can do something. It is an awesome undertaking to change the world for the better but we can do it if we just…act. Function, work, proceed, be, appear, represent, accomplish….We don’t just do it for others. When we act on behalf of positive action, we help ourselves as well.
It isn’t about rewards. It is about living. Live that which you believe and help another. Long before President Bush gave his speech about one thousand points of light, another man named William Shakespeare wrote: “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” It really isn’t about shining, though. It is about action. No deed is ever wasted. Charles de Lint noted: “Every time you do a good deed, you shine the light a little farther into the dark. When you’re gone, the light is going to keep shining on, pushing the shadows back.” Act and the world will glow with the light of your good deeds. We all have something to give. We all can make a difference.