If anyone had told me when I came to America 40 years ago that someday I'd be giving speeches that promote service and volunteering as a way of life, I would have thought they were crazy. When I emigrated from Austria, my goals were to become the greatest bodybuilder ever, conquer Hollywood and make a lot of money. Not because I was selfish. I just didn't grow up in a culture where anyone ever talked to us about giving back.
Then I met Maria Shriver and her extraordinary parents Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver and had the opportunity to be inspired by the First Family of Service. I became immersed in after-school programs, the Special Olympics and the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. I discovered Gandhi was right: The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. It also made me feel terrific.
To elevate service to the status it deserves, we have to change our culture so everyone is inspired to give something back. That's why last February I created in California the nation's first cabinet-level secretary for service and volunteering. Our new secretary attends regular cabinet meetings with the heads of state agencies. By having her in the room, the nonprofit sector has a voice at the highest levels of state government. Every governor should follow suit. We need the same type of commitment in Washington. Imagine a new Secretary of Service and Volunteering sitting down with the Secretaries of Defense, the Treasury, Homeland Security, Commerce and so on. Imagine the service revolution this could help spark across our great nation.
We also created a site, CaliforniaVolunteers.org, that's simple to use and links people to more than 40,000 volunteer opportunities in their communities. Every state should do that.
Government has to make sure it's not an obstacle to service. It must partner with faith-based groups, foundations, nonprofits, community groups and businesses to make it as easy as possible for people to volunteer. Government cannot do everything, but it can and must mobilize, coordinate and encourage people to give something back and make clear that it is everyone's duty to serve in one way or another.
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