Skip to main content

Chelsea Clinton: We can make a difference

By Chelsea Clinton, Special to CNN
updated 7:25 AM EST, Wed January 16, 2013
First lady Michelle Obama helps paint a bench at a service event. She and her family will be participating in National Service Day.
First lady Michelle Obama helps paint a bench at a service event. She and her family will be participating in National Service Day.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chelsea Clinton heads National Day of Service on Saturday, will kick off inauguration weekend
  • All the states will offer volunteer opportunities everyone can participate in, she writes
  • Chelsea Clinton's grandmothers instilled in her family the value of service
  • She says if everyone commits to year-round volunteer work, lots can be achieved

Editor's note: Chelsea Clinton works with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative and serves on the boards of both organizations. She is a special correspondent for NBC News and also serves on the boards of the School of American Ballet, Common Sense Media and the Weill Cornell Medical College. She and her husband, Marc, live in New York City.

(CNN) -- I'm proud to be the honorary chair of the National Day of Service happening this Saturday, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy. It's the perfect way to kick off the inauguration weekend because anyone can participate, and we know that when we work together, we will achieve more than one person could on his or her own.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, members of Congress and their families will be rolling up their sleeves at service projects in our nation's capital. But you don't have to be in Washington to get involved. From repairing fire-damaged homes in Colorado and cleaning sidewalks in Detroit to spending time with children with disabilities in New Orleans, every state will offer opportunities to volunteer.

All these projects have one big thing in common: They're making a community, our country and our world better. That's part of what makes service special. Whether it's volunteering time, skills, ideas or resources, we all can make a difference.

Impact Your World: A life celebrated through service

Chelsea Clinton
Chelsea Clinton

When I was growing up, my parents and grandparents taught me that engaging in service, helping our neighbors and building strong communities are all part of being a good citizen and a good person.

My grandmothers, Virginia and Dorothy, embodied that conviction.

They both had hard lives growing up during the Depression and World War II, but despite the obstacles they faced, they found time to volunteer at their churches and community centers and later, their kids' schools. They created families full of love, support and service.

My parents instilled their mothers' values in me from early on. In Little Rock, Arkansas, we went to church on Sundays, and afterward, conversation often turned to what volunteer project we could do together. Favorites were deciding which books to donate to the church or library and cleaning up parks together, something my father always managed to turn into a game.

When we moved to Washington, service remained an important part of my life. In high school, I helped head the service club, and in college, I volunteered as an America Reads tutor and in the art therapy room at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in California. I loved talking to my grandmothers about my volunteer work, and I agreed with them: I received more than I could ever possibly give.

The inauguration: What to expect

Some volunteer work, such as removing debris after hurricanes, is undeniably hard, physically and emotionally. But a lot of activities, such as chaperoning school field trips, helping a sick child make a collage, reading to older people who have lost their eyesight or participating in an AIDS walk with friends, can be lots of fun. The work is also elevating and powerful.

This Saturday, as I join thousands of Americans coming together to do their part, I'll be thinking about my grandmothers, just like I do every day. I know they'd be proud of our country, that in cities and towns across America, people are lending their neighbors a hand, just as they taught their children and grandchildren to do.

But as exciting as the National Day of Service will be, it will be even more powerful if it is just the beginning. Already, people are going online to pledge to make giving back a part of their lives, not just for a day or for a week, but all year round. If everyone who pitches in this weekend keeps up that commitment throughout the year, think about how much good we can all do. Lots of small acts add up to big change.

Nineteen years ago, my father proudly signed the bill making Martin Luther King Day a time dedicated to serving others. At the speech he gave to mark the event, he reminded us of what King once called, "Life's most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?"

There are countless right answers to that question -- the only wrong one is to do nothing. As we think about the future of our communities and our country, we each have the ability and the responsibility to participate.

I hope you can join me, the first family and our entire American family this Saturday as we make this country that we love even better. You can learn more, find an event near you, and pledge to serve here, at the National Day of Service site.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chelsea Clinton.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT