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
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT