This year, the nation marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and another 6,000 were injured on a defining day for a generation of Americans. This was one of America’s darkest moments. To be sure, we will never forget the sacrifices made that day. But I also remember, clearly, how we as a nation came together afterward to help one another and rise from this tragedy.
To commemorate the spirit of sacrifice of our first responders, AmeriCorps is humbled to help honor those heroes by again uniting the country through service, wherever we are.
The September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance, which was spearheaded by the families of the 9/11 victims to honor their loved ones, allows us to turn a day of tragedy into a day of action. Now, it has become a day of service, remembrance, and resilience for our entire nation.
If there was ever a time our country needed to show resilience and unity, it is now.
As the Acting CEO of AmeriCorps, the federal agency for volunteerism and national service, I have seen simple acts of service heal hearts and communities. When we volunteer, we return to the roots which bind us together as Americans.
I see this power of service every day. I see volunteers not only giving their time and improving their communities, but also encouraging others to join in making our nation stronger. Through service, Americans connect on a deeper level with their country, their communities, and the people they serve, and inspire others to do the same.
Those are the principles at the heart of AmeriCorps — service over self, channeling the power of people to solve problems, building on the assets of the community, and embracing diversity and inclusiveness.
Those principles drove me to a career in national service. I was 15 years old when President John F. Kennedy became president. Growing up in Boston — the birthplace of our democracy and home to the Kennedys — this was a big moment for our community.
During his inaugural address President Kennedy made his famous call to service: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
I was profoundly moved by his speech and by the idea that every American has something to contribute to making our country better; our greatness is not about what can be done for us, but what can be done by us, together.
That idea is at the heart of everything we do at AmeriCorps. It has been the driving force of my career.
My service journey began in 1967, when I served three years as a VISTA volunteer and VISTA leader — now known as an AmeriCorps member. Since then, my experience in national service has led me to a life of service including a detail to the White House in 1993 to help Eli Segal “turn the poetry into prose” by standing up the newly created Corporation for National and Community Service, now known as “AmeriCorps.”
In my more than half century in national service, I’ve had countless opportunities to witness firsthand the power of service to transform lives and communities.
I have seen our members and volunteers tackle some of our toughest challenges including disaster response. Right now, our members are responding to Hurricane Ida.
Service bridges divides, gives us a sense of shared duty, and common purpose, uniting people across age, race, gender, background, and religion, in a deep appreciation for our country.
Amid the myriad of challenges facing our country, millions of Americans have stepped forward to become part of the solution. To find common ground. To make us stronger. To get things done.
This 9/11, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country…in your community.
Join us in honoring this day through service — find a volunteer project near you, contribute an act of good, or make a pledge to serve. Together, we’ll rekindle that spirit of unity that swept the nation 20 years ago and honor our heroes who demonstrated to all of us that even on its worst day, America can show its best.
Mal Coles is Acting CEO of AmeriCorps.