On the eve of the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, he calls on us to give back to our communities today. Coincidence or not, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday will usher in a much-anticipated change in our leadership, with volunteerism as Obama's first order of the day. “It is not a day to just pause and reflect – it is a day to act” said Obama today.

Volunteering is a concept we've always fully embraced in our home, and this call to volunteer today reminded me of an earlier post on the subject of volunteerism, titled 'Time to Give Back', which I wrote at the beginning of this school year. There's an endless list of ways to get involved, and an even more abundant need to lend our time and talents. But, it only takes an hour or two of your time to make a difference in someone’s day without you realizing it until you've done it.

Heeding this call to volunteer, a group of middle school kids headed to a downtown church to participate in Ladle Day helping serve at a soup kitchen. Once there, the young volunteers were placed at various stations to help prepare and serve food to about two hundred people. Among this multitude of needy souls, my daughter encountered Marika, a 6 year old, who had spotted the multi-colored thread bracelets Bianca makes for herself and wears with pride. The little girl approached the teenager and complimented her on her bracelets. Without hesitation, Bianca asked if she would like one, and let her choose the one which pleased her most to keep. After we picked her up at the volunteer van's drop-off point, Bianca was bursting with emotion and couldn't wait to share her touching experience in making that small child happy – even for only that day.

“Can I write down my name for you so you won't forget me?” Marika asked my daughter. “Sure, let me go find a piece of paper and a pencil”, Bianca told her. She couldn't find anything in the church's kitchen for her to write on so the little girl told her she could write it on her hand. Marika's mother later walked-up to my child and thanked her for this small gesture.

So the seeds planted a few years ago in my family's core set of values: giving back, paying-it-forward and volunteerism are now being harvested with random acts of kindness and the donation of time – the best part about this is that the kids are doing it on their own now, and not being volun-told!

The hope, optimism and high expectations for our new President are extremely high right now. But, we can not rely entirely on this single man. We must help ourselves too, and a good start is right in our own community.

“I ask the American people to turn today's efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities, and their country.”  President-elect Barack Obama

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