Charity and philanthropy have a long history in the United States. Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, once said, "I believe … that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another" [source: University of Virginia]. Jefferson's sentiments continue to live on. Today, the United States is the most charitable country in the world, annually donating more than twice as much as Britain, the next most-giving country [source: Associated Press]. In fact, as of 2007, more than 27 percent of Americans contributed to their communities through volunteerism [source: Scherer].
Considering the United States' history of generosity, it's not surprising that many believe that philanthropy and charity hold an intrinsic place in American culture. Numerous presidents have encouraged that call to service. The Peace Corps was born from President John F. Kennedy's call in 1960 for students to serve the United States by residing and working in developing countries. George H. W. Bush's call for volunteerism in his 1989 inaugural address led to the creation of the Points of Light Institute, the largest volunteer organization in the country. On April 21, 2009, newly elected President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. This act dramatically expands the opportunities Americans have to volunteer and is perhaps the most ambitious call to service any president has ever made.
The Serve America Act wasn't President Obama's first call to Americans for service, however. A former community organizer, he believes that widespread volunteerism is a way to better both individual communities and the country as a whole. Obama has promoted the value of service and volunteerism throughout his time on the campaign trail and since taking office.
There are a myriad of ways you can answer the president's call for charitable service. From becoming a White House intern to housing a homeless pet, there are opportunities for everyone, regardless of age, income status or political affiliation.