Inauguration Weekend Begins with National Day of Service

19 Jan, 2013

President Obama and Vice President Biden plunged into volunteer projects in Washington Saturday, part of a National Day of Service to start inauguration weekend and commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Obama arrived shortly after 11:30 a.m. at Burrville Elementary School in Northeast Washington to participate in a school makeover. The president and first lady Michelle Obama were seen staining a wooden bookcase a shade of medium brown, a day before his second term will begin and two days before his public inauguration at the Capitol.

Obama, who took part in similar event four years ago, hopes to make pre-inaugural volunteering a tradition for his successors.

Earlier Saturday, Biden and his family joined a crowd of volunteers at the D.C. Armory assembling care packages for troops overseas, veterans and first responders .

With his wife, children and grandchildren, the vice president arrived at 10:30 a.m. at the event coordinated by the Points of Light Foundation. The armory was filled with volunteers aiming to pack 100,000 kits, including supplies such as dental floss, toothbrushes and toothpaste, wipes, bandages, sanitizers and cotton swabs.

More than 250,000 people across the country are expected to take place in service projects in every state, organizers said.

The signature event Saturday is an all-day fair on the Mall featuring speakers, including Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former president Bill Clinton, and actress Eva Longoria. There were also plans for musical performances and booths to inform people local and national service organizations. Those in attendance could also do a bit of volunteering on the spot.

In Alexandria, nearly 200 volunteers in bright green T-shirts packed an auditorium at a branch of the Northern Virginia Community College. At the front of the room, Frances Villagtan-Glover, dean of learning and technology resources at the school, asked the crowd: “What is so important about Martin Luther King Day?”

There was a pause, then a chorus of answers from students:

“He had a dream!”

“He advocated for others!”

“He wanted equality for all!”

Over the next few hours, the volunteers were planning to assemble 20,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now, an international aid organization that would send the meals overseas, said Rebecca Waggoner, a coordinator on-site for the organization.

In recent days, the Obamas have appeared in YouTube videos speaking of their commitment to public service and asking Americans to get involved.

Sunny skies and climbing temperatures were enticements to get outside and participate. Jason Samenow of The Post’s Capital Weather Gang said temperatures could near 50 degrees by Saturday afternoon. The forecast called for an arctic cold front to move into the region Sunday afternoon, with winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour. And for all those keeping an eye on Monday morning’s weather, here’s the bottom line: Plan to bundle up if you’re heading to the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue to witness the ceremonies.

“If you’re out early Monday morning, it will be quite cold,” Samenow said. The day will start with subfreezing temperatures, he said, in the 20s. “By noon, we’re looking at 35, 36 degrees.” It’s also possible, Samenow said, that a few snow flurries could fall Monday afternoon.

The King holiday — which coincides with the presidential’s ceremonial inauguration on Monday — has traditionally included a national day of service, but Obama was the first to incorporate it into the official inauguration weekend festivities. Four years ago, he helped paint a wall robin’s-egg blue at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a homeless shelter for teens in Southeast.

The newly elected president went on to issue a stirring call to service in his first inaugural address. And later Congress passed a $6 billion measure to expand national service programs.

But the energy of those heady early days quickly dissipated in the economic reality of hard times. The number of volunteers and donations to charity remain below pre-recession levels, and funding for some national service programs has been trimmed or eliminated.

Many of the measures called for in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act — passed with fervor in 2009 — were never completed, such as a planned expansion of the number of community service volunteers in the AmeriCorps program to 140,000. The program has about 82,500 slots today. Other programs were cut, and Learn and Serve America for students was eliminated.

The administration said it hopes those whogive their time Saturday will continue volunteering in their communities.

“It’s a terrific reminder of who we are as Americans,” Obama said in one of the recent videos. He urged those interested in volunteering to find a project at

Washington Post

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