Skip to main content

Chelsea Clinton: We can make a difference

By Chelsea Clinton, Special to CNN
January 16, 2013 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
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
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT