September 11, 2006

Five Years after 9/11: Turning Tragedy into Good

The following letter is from the Corporation of National and Community Service's CEO David Eisner


Dear Colleagues,

Five years ago today, as the smoke was still pouring out of Manhattan, the Pentagon, and the crash site in Pennsylvania, President Bush said, "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”

Indeed, the heartfelt outpouring of compassion and concern that marked Americans’ response to 9/11 also seemed to strengthen something in our collective resolve to make our communities better, closer, and more resilient.

Since 9/11, the number of Americans who serve and volunteer in their communities has risen by more than 10 percent for the first time in more than a generation. Millions of Americans are answering the Call to Service that President Bush made in 2002, and USA Freedom Corps, the Corporation, and our vast network of service partners continue to work at building a lasting culture of service, responsibility, and citizenship.

The 9/11 attacks have changed the landscape of national service, ushering in new organizations, vital collaborations, and better ways of doing business. Every state has created a Citizen Corps Council to engage volunteers in homeland security, many led by our state service commissions. New partnerships have been formed with FEMA, VOADs, and State Emergency Management Agencies. More of our grants have gone to support disaster preparedness and recovery. The Corporation has been formally designated in the National Response Plan as a lead agency for volunteer and donation management in times of disaster, as have several service commissions in their respective states. And thousands of our volunteers, members, and alums have taken CERT and other disaster preparedness training to be ready in case tragedy strikes again.

Beyond these changes, 9/11 and the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 have helped build Americans’ understanding that service and volunteering aren’t just “nice” but are necessary parts of how our nation deals with its challenges. Not just the occasional challenges of a man-made or natural disaster, but the ongoing social and economic needs that are disasters in their own right: the 15 percent of American children who live below the poverty line; the 15 million children who need mentors, the millions of elderly people who need help living independently in their homes. Our bipartisan elected leaders, from the President and Congress to Governors and local officials, recognize more than ever before that national service and volunteering are cost-effective investments that improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster active citizenship.

Out of the evil of 9/11 has come an unmistakable good: a rise of volunteering and community involvement. National service should be proud of its role in fueling and supporting this civic awakening. But we have a long road ahead to tap the full potential of American compassion. We are grateful to the national service family – state commissions and offices, programs directors and staff, and most of all members and volunteers – for choosing this difficult but noble path. And we thank you for the uplifting service you give to your fellow Americans today and every day.

In Service,
David Eisner
CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service

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