Celebrate our country’s history of national service

Tomorrow is not just the last day of summer. September 21 also marks the 20th anniversary of the National and Community Service Trust Act, a federal bill sponsored by President Bill Clinton and supported by Gov. Jay Inslee while he was serving in the U.S. House.

That measure created AmericCorps, an ambitious call to service that has provided our state with $212 million in funding and more than 21,000 volunteers of all ages to help fill the manpower gap for initiatives in local communities.

Many of AmeriCorps’ current 850 Washington volunteers are serving right now in Thurston County, tutoring and mentoring children, assisting active and retired military families, doing environmental work and more.

AmeriCorps’ anniversary has a special meaning for the state of Washington. The program is modeled after the Washington Service Corps, which was created by the Legislature a decade earlier, in 1983. The two organizations are now joined.

Many presidents have called citizens to action during their terms. Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, putting 4 million young people into service. John F. Kennedy told Americans to ask “what you could do for your country,” and the Peace Corps was born in the 1960s.

Lyndon B. Johnson created the domestic companion to the Peace Corps, called Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA. George H.W. Bush urged Congress to pass the National and Community Service Act in 1990 focused on renewing “the ethic of civic responsibility in the United States.”

George W. Bush created the USA Freedom Corps, an umbrella organization that now coordinates the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Citizen Corps and Senior Corps.

The latest call to action goes into effect Oct. 1. It’s called the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. It increases AmeriCorps from 75,000 volunteers to 250,000 over the next 10 years.

The goal of every president has been to mobilize Americans to get things done in service to others. AmeriCorps and its companion programs have embraced the slogan of Rotary International, a 108-year-old community service organization: service above self.

By acknowledging AmeriCorps’ anniversary tomorrow, we are celebrating the magic that happens when citizens engage in national and community service.