So, What Can You Do For Your Country?

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Junior high school students volunteer at Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis

Do you have two years to give to your country?

No, you haven't stumbled upon a recruiting site for the military — this is the latest call to volunteerism, and it comes from none other than the President of the United States.

During his hard-nosed State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Bush asked every American to dedicate at least 4,000 hours (roughly two years) to volunteer service. "For too long our culture has said, 'If it feels good, do it,'" the President said. "America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: 'Let's roll.' We want to be a nation that serves goals larger than self."

Volunteer Links
? USA Freedom Corps
? The Independent Sector
? The American Red Cross
? America's Charities
? Habitat for Humanity
? Project America

Hoping to capitalize on the national unity sparked by the September 11th terror attacks, the President continued to promote volunteerism Thursday during a swing through the Southeast. "The way I view this, we are fighting evil. The best way to fight evil is with acts of kindness," Bush told a group of senior citizen volunteers in Florida.

If current trends hold, the President won't have much convincing to do. More than 44 percent of Americans volunteered during 2001, according to Independent Sector, a coalition of non-profits, corporations and foundations focused on increasing charitable work and contributions. The hope is that in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, Americans are ready to make a sustained commitment to charitable works. This optimism is supported by a new Gallup poll showing 82 percent of adults in the U.S. are prepared to answer the President's call.

That's great news for the country's volunteer leaders. "Four thousand hours is an ambitious goal," says Sandy Scott, spokesman for the Corporation for National and Community Service the federal agency that coordinates USA Freedom Corps, a new organization that matches Americans with volunteer opportunities. "But we hope people are up for it," he says. "So far, there's been a lot of outpouring of patriotic feeling, but that needs to be translated into good works." While volunteerism did surge briefly after 9/11, the numbers have leveled off again around 44 percent.

It seems the President's words may have already made an impact; Scott reports that the Freedom Corps website has registered 2.1 million hits, or visits, since the State of the Union address.

While USA Freedom Corps is a new name, it actually serves as an umbrella organization for two of the nation's most venerable volunteer groups, Senior Corps and the Peace Corps, both established in the 1960s. It also covers the five-year-old AmeriCorps, started by President Clinton, and the brand new Citizen Corps.

It's Citizen Corps that responds most directly to post-9/11 anxieties and needs. Citizen Corps is geared toward homeland security, allowing volunteers to help police departments, establish emergency medical procedures and ramp up neighborhood watch programs.

While Citizens Corps may appeal to those with post 9/11 zeal, Scott emphasizes the need for help in more "everyday" volunteer projects, particularly those involving children's literacy, a special focus among AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members.

Volunteering at a Glance

Who volunteers:44 percent of American adults, or 83.9 million people
Forty-six percent of women volunteer
Forty-two percent of men
The hours we volunteer An average of 3.6 hours per week

Total dollar value of volunteer time: $239.2 billion

Where we volunteer: At any of 1.23 million charitable and volunteer organizations in the U.S.

Where the need is greatest:Literacy programs, homeland security initiatives