History of National Service

In recognition of National Volunteer Week, April 18-24
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National Volunteer Week was first established in April 1974 by Presidential Proclamation. Each year, National Volunteer Week celebrates millions of Americans dedicated to volunteerism. In appreciation of this nationally recognized observance, this article provides a select history of significant events related to national service.

“I urge all Americans to observe that week by seeking out an area in their community in which they can give to a needy individual or a worthy cause by devoting a few hours, or more, each week to volunteer service.”

1933

President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) by Executive Order on April 5, 1933. Read the President’s message to Congress regarding creation of the CCC as printed in the Congressional Record on March 21, 1933.

“I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

1961

President John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps within the Department of State by Executive Order on March 1, 1961.

Executive Order 10924 as printed in the Federal Register Volume 26, Issue 40

The Peace Corps Act is approved later this year to authorize funding.

75 Stat. 612 (Public Law 87-293), Approved September 22, 1961

Read Senator Humphrey’s remarks on introduction of the legislation and a letter from President Kennedy to Congress as printed in the Congressional Record.

107 Cong. Rec. (Bound) – Senate: June 1, 1961

1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson creates VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) as part of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 “to perform duties in furtherance of programs combating poverty at a State or local level.”

78 Stat. 508 (Public Law 88-452), Approved August 20, 1964

1971

The ACTION agency is created on July 1 to “consolidate and administer the Nation’s federally sponsored volunteer programs, which include the Peace Corps, VISTA, the Foster Grandparent program, and the SCORE/ACE program, a corps of volunteer small business counselors.”

Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1971, Title 5 U.S.C. Appendix

1973

The Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, the authorizing legislation for ACTION, is enacted.

87 Stat. 394 (Public Law 93-113), Approved October 1, 1973

1974

National Volunteer Week is first established in April 1974 by Presidential Proclamation.

88 Stat. 2476, Presidential Proclamation 4288

1990

The National and Community Service Act of 1990 is signed into law to enhance national and community service, and for other purposes.

Statute Compilation of the text of Public Law 101-610 (Does not represent an official version of any Federal statute. The official version of Federal law is found in the United States Statutes at Large and in the United States Code.)

1991

1991 Public Papers - At the Points of Light proclamation signing ceremony in Glenarden, MD, April 12, 1991, from Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George H.W. Bush (1991, Book I)

President George H.W. Bush references “a Thousand Points of Light” in his January 29, 1991, State of the Union Address.

137 Cong. Rec. (Bound) – Senate: January 29, 1991

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.”

1992

National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is created as part of the 1993 Defense Authorization Act as a demonstration program to explore the possibility of using post-Cold War military resources to help solve national challenges.

The NCCC is governed by 42 U.S.C. Division E

1993


1993 Public Papers - Signing the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 on the South Lawn, September 21, 1993, from Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book II)

In September 1993, President Bill Clinton signs the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 “to establish a Corporation for National Service, enhance opportunities for national service, and provide national service educational awards to persons participating in such service.”

107 Stat. 785 (Public Law 103-82), Approved September 21, 1993

“National service, I hope and pray, will help us to strengthen the cords that bind us together as a people, will help us to remember in the quiet of every night that what each of us can become is to some extent determined by whether all of us can become what God meant us to be.”

1994

Congress passes the King Holiday and Service Act of 1994, on August 23, 1994, charging the Corporation for National Service with taking the lead in organizing Martin Luther King Day as a day of service.

108 Stat. 1565 (Public Law 103-304), Approved August 23, 1994

“[Dr. King] dedicated himself to what was in his time and what remains the most difficult challenge we face as a democratic people: closing the great gap between our words and our deeds.”


President Clinton swearing in AmeriCorps volunteers in the Oval Office, September 12, 1994, from Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1994, Book II)

In September 1994, President Clinton swears in the first class of AmeriCorps volunteers.

“Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty…[it] comes down to three simple questions: What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it? Today we’re doing what is right.”

1997

On June 18, 1997, Congress approves the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 “to provide certain protections to volunteers, nonprofit organizations, and governmental entities in lawsuits based on the activities of volunteers.”

111 Stat. 218 (Public Law 105-19), Approved June 18, 1997

“Through citizen service, Americans recognize that we are responsible for one another and that we are members of a true community.”

2002

On February 4, 2002, President George W. Bush establishes the USA Freedom Corps by Executive Order “to foster a culture of
responsibility, service, and citizenship by promoting, expanding, and enhancing public service opportunities for all Americans and by making these opportunities readily available to citizens from all geographic areas, professions, and walks of life.”

38 WCPD 139 Executive Order 13254, February 4, 2002

“My call tonight is for every American to commit at least 2 years, 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime, to the service of your neighbors and your Nation.”

2003

President Bush creates the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation by Executive Order on February 3, 2003, with the mission to “encourage the recognition of outstanding volunteer service and civic participation by individuals, schools, and organizations and thereby encourage more such activity, especially on the part of America’s youth; and facilitate awareness of the ways in which Americans throughout our history have helped to meet the vital needs of their communities and Nation through volunteer service and civic participation.”

39 WCPD 123 Executive Order 13285, February 3, 2003

2009

On February 25, 2009, a hearing is held before the Committee on Education and Labor: Renewing America Through National Service and Volunteerism.

House Hearing, 111th Congress, Serial No. 111-4

On April 21, 2009, Congress approves the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act “to reauthorize and reform the national service laws.”

123 Stat. 1460 (Public Law 111-13), Approved April 21, 2009

“We need your service right now…I’m asking you to help change history’s course…And if I—if you do, I promise you, your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.”

2013

President Obama presents the 5000th Daily Point of Light Award.

“Twenty-three years ago, President George H.W. Bush began a tradition. He knew that across the country every day, Americans were finding ways to serve each other and give back to their communities, often with very few resources and very little recognition…he knew that their spirit of service was vital to our national character. So he created an award, the Daily Point of Light Award, to recognize Americans who serve their neighbors and communities in innovative ways that inspire us all.”

2014

President Obama and former President Clinton celebrate the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps.

“Like all those who serve their country through AmeriCorps, they don’t just believe in, but live out a fundamental truth, and that is that people who love their country can change it. That is the genius of America. That is the promise of AmeriCorps.”

Related Resources

  • Visit Americorps.gov, the federal agency for community service and volunteerism.
  • Visit PeaceCorps.gov to learn more and apply.
  • See related documents in recognition of the anniversary of the establishment of the Peace Corps.

About Featured Content Articles – This series of articles aims to highlight content available in govinfo related to various national observances, commemorations, anniversaries and more. See more featured content articles.

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