Day of Service Touches Hearts Across America

WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2009 (ENS) – Hundreds of thousands of people participated in more than 11,000 service events across the country today to honor President-elect Barack Obama’s request to Americans of all ages to help fellow citizens in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and of his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.

This morning, Obama participated in the renovation of safe space housing for homeless and runaway or disconnected young people at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, an organization that has met the urgent needs of Washington, DC’s at-risk youth and their families for more than 30 years.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden worked with Habitat for Humanity alongside 50 AmeriCorps volunteers, firefighters, and police officers to help build homes for families in need in northeast Washington, DC.

Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and Ashley Biden participated in the day’s largest service project. At Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, volunteers made more than 85,000 care packages for American servicemen and women stationed around the globe.

Across the country, many people are taking environmental action, planting trees, restoring native plants and removing trash from parks and beaches.

In Exton, Pennsylvania, Diane Peralta says the theme at Exton Elementary School this year is, “No child left inside.” For the day of service, the staff ordered small Arbor Day trees for each classroom that the students can care for. “When the weather gets better we will plant them outside and donate the rest,” said Peralta. “The students will learn about nature in the process! We are bringing the outside inside for the moment.”

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Clean Water Fund is making Tuesday a day of service to protect the environment. Organizer Marta Johnson says, “Help us educate the community on important upcoming environmental issues and grow our voice to ensure we get Michigan back on track with a green economy!”

Members of Earth Team plant native species at the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline. (Photo courtesy Earth Team)

In Oakland, California, Save The Bay worked with volunteers from EarthTeam, a local network of students, teachers and youth leaders, and employees from Kaiser Permanente to restore wetlands and pick up trash at the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline in Oakland.

Coordinator Darcie Collins said the volunteers are planting native species such as blue wild rye and lavender in the tidal salt marsh. The vegetation provides food and shelter for two endangered species – a bird called the California clapper rail found only in the San Francisco Bay area and the salt marsh harvest mouse, which she says is “no bigger than your thumb.”

Another more ad hoc group brought trash bags to the beach at Long Beach, California and filled them with litter.

Litter is important to Rakesh Baruah, who wants a Litter Free Inauguration on the National Mall on Tuesday for the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to be there to witness this historic inauguration.

“After President-elect Obama’s speech on election night, volunteers and clean-up crews spent hours picking up the trash left behind by supporters. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen to the National Mall on Inauguration Day, says Baruah. “If you plan on packing on to the mall to celebrate President Obama’s swearing-in on January 20th, please bring a bag to carry any trash you may have with you when you leave. It’s that simple! Help us spread the word about Litter Free Inauguration 2009.”

Days of service are planned from now until the end of January. In Houston, Texas, for instance, volunteers from Keep Houston Beautiful will plant trees along the trail for the visually impaired on January 31.

And above all, people across the country are rejoicing and helping others – with food drives, neighborhood celebrations, pot lucks, inauguration watching parties, and Renew America gatherings – in parks, golf clubs, restaurants and cafes; in homes, churches, schools, theaters, and in community halls – there is celebration.

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