The Serve America Act of 2009, which President Barack Obama signed into law this week, is significant in at least two ways. It came as the result of Republicans and Democrats working together, and it offers several programs that will give volunteers, from teens to older persons, effective avenues to serve others. This bipartisan effort could not have come at a better time, when the nation is facing unprecedented crises — from the tanking economy to failing schools, from health care to energy and more.
As these problems intensify and people's needs increase during this recession, volunteers are needed more than ever to help solve some of the toughest problems in recent memory and get communities and individual lives back on track.
The president, who said early on that he fully supports Serve America, gave the House and Senate impetus to work together. He was following the lead of Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who guided the legislation. It creates new opportunities for citizens to serve in an array of projects, including helping students perform better in school, rebuilding cities following disasters, preparing people for green and innovative 21st century jobs and connecting senior citizens with life-sustaining services.
The breakthrough came when Democrats and Republicans agreed to combine the best of each party's long-held positions on volunteerism. Republicans have traditionally supported voluntary, part-time service, and Democrats have backed government-subsidized, full-time service programs. By combining the traditions, lawmakers gave the directors of the programs, including the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, the power to expand the effectiveness of their work and to recruit more volunteers.
Obama invited Republicans and Democrats to the White House to witness the bill signing. Members of Congress put aside party loyalty and parochialism to work together for the good of the nation. The hope now is the same kind of bipartisanship will extend to other areas.