Americans roll up sleeves in day of service before inauguration

Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:50pm EST
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By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - From sprucing up hiking trails to painting schools, Americans across the country, including President Barack Obama and his family, took part in a national day of service on Saturday to help kick off presidential inauguration ceremonies.

The day honors the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" Obama will be publicly sworn in for a second term on Monday, which is also a national holiday honoring King.

Before his first inauguration in 2009, Obama urged Americans to spend part of January 19 helping others by volunteering. This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee asked people both to volunteer on Saturday and pledge to do more service work throughout the year.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, accompanied by their daughters, Malia and Sasha, rolled up their sleeves to spruce up an elementary school in Washington. After varnishing some bookshelves, both Obamas spoke to about 300 other volunteers and noted the importance of getting young people to get in the habit of helping out.

"I want to say thank you to the parents, for showing early on to all our young people how gratifying, how fulfilling this is," Obama said. His wife added, "We're passing on the baton to you all."

Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton, helped launch a volunteer fair on Washington's National Mall.

"The national day of service is a wonderful way to honor the legacy of Doctor King, to kick off this inaugural weekend," said Biden, the attorney general of Delaware and an Iraq war veteran.

"Despite all the talk of how divided we are as a nation, more and more Americans are coming together to serve each other every day. Volunteerism in America is at a five-year high," Biden said, noting that Americans spent 8 billion hours giving back to their communities in 2011.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as first lady Michelle speaks to volunteers at Burrville Elementary School while participating in a day of service, hoping to encourage Americans to follow suit with volunteering projects nationwide in Washington January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque