Americans Encouraged to Make a Difference This Summer

From the smallest of organizations to the leader of the free world, calls have been resounding across the nation for Americans to invest time this summer to serve causes greater than themselves.

In a video message released this week, President Obama extended a call to service challenging all Americans to help lay a new foundation for growth in America by engaging in sustained, meaningful community service.

"This summer, I'm calling on all of you to make volunteerism and community service part of your daily life and the life of this nation," Obama says in the video, unveiling his summer service initiative, "United We Serve," which will run from June 22 to Sept. 11. "And when I say 'all,' I mean everyone – young and old, from every background, all across this country. We need individuals, community organizations, corporations, foundations, and our government to be part of this effort."

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Though Obama's initiative is new, the call to service during the summer is certainly not. But the latest announcement is expected to bolster the efforts of the faith-based and community groups that each year try to recruit volunteers to serve during the summer – particularly youth, who tend to spend their summer vacations lounging around and hanging out with friends.

Here's Life Inner City, the urban ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International, for example, has been urging college students for years to become "student missionaries" in America's inner cities during their summers.

"We send eager college students into the inner city for close-range, heart-to-heart, hands-on ministry," explained Ted Gandy, national director of Here's Life Inner City. "Over the years, Summer in the City has become increasingly effective, touching the lives of more and more inner-city children and families and leading more and more to faith in Christ."

This year 125 college kids will be trading traditional summertime fun for a chance to help and inspire inner-city families across the country by joining Here's Life Inner City's unique outreach, "Summer in the City."

And while Summer in the City offers students many rewards, pay is not one of them. The young volunteers not only forfeit their summer vacation, they also pay for their travel expenses, lodging, meals and supplies.

"These are wonderfully dedicated young people who are having a positive impact on the lives of inner-city kids and families, not just for the summer, but for a lifetime," said Gandy.

Now, for those who aren't able to join summer volunteer efforts hands on, faith-based and community organizations are encouraging them to support those who are, such as the student volunteers with Here's Life Inner City, whose expenses the organization is trying to defray through donations.

And for those who have limited amounts of time and resources but still want to do what they can to make a difference in their country or even others, there are organizations such as Operation Christmas Child that emphasize how a little effort can go a long way.

 Operation Christmas Child, a project of international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, is preparing to collect and deliver some 8 million gift-filled shoe boxes this year with the help of local families, churches, businesses, schools and community groups.

Individuals looking to touch the life of a needy child are encouraged to set aside some time to fill a shoe box with items most children take for granted – toothbrushes, soap, pencils, notebooks – as well as toys, hard candy, and hand-written messages.

"An easy project turns summer fun into a blessing that will last all year long," Operation Christmas Child organizers say.

Though Obama's summer service initiative officially concludes on Sept. 11, the National Day of Service and Remembrance, calls from even seemingly seasonal projects such as Operation Christmas Child will be ringing year-round.

"During Thanksgiving and Christmas, people are acutely aware of the need to help feed the hungry, but homelessness and hunger is a year-round phenomenon," noted U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently to a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers.

In his video commentary this week, Obama expressed his hope that the work new volunteers begin this summer will continue for the rest of their lives.

"Because America's new foundation will be built one community at a time – and it starts with you," he concluded.

To get Americans connected to service projects in their community, the White House has launched, a website that provides lists of opportunities for people to serve.

Those with ideas for a project are also encouraged to go online and register them.

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