Americans turn out for National Day of Service

Chelsea Clinton and Beau Biden headlined National Day of Service events Saturday, urging Americans to make it second nature to help others as people turned out across the country to volunteer at churches, food banks and community centers.

From rebuilding houses destroyed in Hurricane Sandy to cleaning schools, Americans all across the country volunteered at churches, food banks and community centers across the U.S. Saturday to answer President Barack Obama's call for a National Day of Service.

The president kicked of the three-day inaugural celebrations by volunteering at Burrville Elementary school in Washington, along with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia. The four of them joined about 500 volunteers to spruce up the school by painting bookshelves.

"This is really what America is about, this is what we celebrate," Obama said speaking at Burrville Elementary. "This inauguration, it's a symbol of how our democracy works and how we peacefully transfer power, but it should also be an affirmation that we're all in this together, and we've got to look out for each other, and we've got to work hard on behalf of each other." He added that the turnout for the day's events across the country was an indication of the "huge hunger on the part of young people to get involved and to get engaged."

Vice President Joe Biden volunteered by filling care kits for deployed U.S. service members, veterans, first responders and wounded warriors.

Twitter exploded with pictures and tweets from hundreds of people who spent their morning mentoring children, organizing clothes drives or cooking for the poor.

Chris Robinson, spokesperson for the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington (RPCVW), tweeted about his experience painting a literacy mural at Moten Elementary school in D.C.

National Day of Service: RPCVW volunteers along with Capital Cause volunteers paint a mural at Moten elementary  in DC on Saturday. IMAGERPCVW: Chris Robinson

Robinson's group marched in Obama's first inaugural parade in 2009, but was not selected to participate this year. Robinson told MSN news that RPCVW wanted to turn that disappointment into a good showing for the national day of service. "Volunteering is where our true passion resides," Robinson said. RPCVW members also worked with disabled kids and prepared care packages for troops along with the vice president and his wife today.

Kezia Williams, whose organization Capital Cause worked with RPCVW and five other groups to paint murals and distribute literacy packages in six public schools in Ward 8 -- one of DC's most underserved areas -- described the day as a success.

"I am tired, but happy," Williams said. More than 500 people volunteered by handing out literacy packs, audio books and building libraries from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to change the high illiteracy rates in the schools.

The president had asked all Americans to dedicate Jan. 19 to serve others in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader whose birthday coincides with Obama's second inauguration Monday.

Chelsea Clinton, who headlined the National Day of Service events with a rally, tweeted about it: "Even more excited about the National Day of Service having just gotten off the stage!!"

Clinton, who is serving as the honorary chair of the National Day of Service, joined other celebrities and politicians on the National Mall in Washington where hundreds of organizations have set up booths to inform the public how they can volunteer for different causes, including health, education, environment and economic development. The fair included booths by the American Red Cross, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue and the Catholic Volunteer Network.

Laptops are available inside a big tent set up in the National Mall where people can pledge the number of hours they are willing to volunteer for a service project this year. The Presidential Inaugural Committee said that 13,000 people had attended the fair and that Americans had pledged more than a million hours to volunteer in their communities.

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Before introducing Clinton to the audience, actress Eva Longoria, who is serving as co-chair of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, spoke briefly about her family's history of giving back to the community.

"I am so excited to be here, so inspiring to see so many of you come out on this National Day of Service – to give back to your community," Longoria said. "My three sisters and I were blessed to have great role models, which were my parents. My mother was a special education teacher … so a lot of what we did to give back was in the education arena."

Longoria stressed the importance of education, saying that it was imperative to compete in a global market. "The president knows that for our nation a good education cannot be a luxury," she said.

Longoria encouraged the crowd to start serving by volunteering at after-school programs, donating books to libraries, donating supplies, painting a classroom or teaching a class to adult students.

"Make a difference in one child's life," she said. Longoria launched the Eva Longoria Foundation last year which focuses on helping Latinas and education.

Clinton's speech echoed Longoria's, talking about how her parents, Bill and Hillary Clinton, inspire her every day to serve others.

"It's so awesome to see so much enthusiasm in this room today," she said to cheers from the crowd. "This day in particular has a lot of meaning to me." Clinton said that she was proud of her father, who 19 years ago signed a bill that made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a day of national service.

"When he signed the bill he reminded us of what Dr. King often called life's most persistent and urgent question: 'What are you doing for others?' And in my family there is only one wrong answer to that, which is 'nothing.'"

Clinton, who will be taking part in a service project with her husband, Marc, recalled her grandmother Dorothy Rodham who started volunteering when she was a child. Rodham spent her life supervising school trips, mentoring, knitting clothes for her church or donating money to the Big Sisters and Big Brothers.

Vice President Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden, took the stage after Clinton, reminding everyone to lend a helping hand to the country's veterans. Biden, who serves as Delaware's attorney general, said that the nation's servicemen were a living inspiration to him. "Whether it's a 17-year old boy reporting for basic training after begging his mom to sign a waiver to allow him to join or the national guardsmen who leaves his home and his family as the storm approaches … servicemen and women and their families are living monuments to that service."

Biden said that in spite of talks of how divided the nation was, more and more Americans are coming forward to serve each other every day. "Volunteerism is at a five-year high," he said, adding that Americans spent eight billion hours in 2011 giving back to their communities, enough hours to build the entire Empire State Building more than a thousand times over.

The idea for the National Day of Service goes back to 2009, before Obama's first inauguration. At that time, he had volunteered at a homeless shelter for teens and visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

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