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Obama Hopes Volunteer Plan Will Help Economy

First lady Michelle Obama will launch a summer of service Monday that the White House hopes will help the economy recover through the work of individuals.

The announcement will be made at a volunteer conference in San Francisco, where Obama will join California first lady Maria Shriver to work on a playground.

"Real change doesn't come from the top down from Washington," Obama said in a written statement. "It comes from the bottom up - from citizens organizing and mobilizing and serving the nation that they love."

The initiative, United We Serve, comes as new graduates face an unwelcoming economy and millions of workers have lost jobs and may be more likely to have time to help others.

The administration "is recruiting the country, all of us, to be part of the economic recovery," said Claire Gaudiani, a historian of philanthropy at New York University. "It's a brilliant stroke."

President Obama, a former community organizer, announced the program Tuesday in a video on YouTube. He called on people of all ages to help "build a new foundation for economic growth" by volunteering at hospitals, using energy-efficient products at home and tutoring at neighborhood schools.

The program builds on Obama's call to service on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when at least 1 million people did volunteer work on the eve of his inauguration.

The goal is to make volunteering a part of daily life. The initial phase will culminate on Sept. 11, on what's meant to be an annual National Day of Service and Remembrance for those who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

About one in four Americans volunteer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, 61.8 million people, or 26.4 percent of the population, gave their time, down from 28.8 percent in 2005.

Increasing volunteerism has been a perennial White House project. The first President Bush spoke of "a thousand points of light" - programs he said were working on the nation's problems. President Clinton founded the AmeriCorps service program.

What makes this effort different "is the strong grass-roots element and the use of technology to engage volunteers," said Roger Lowe of the American Red Cross, which is seeking help through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

A website, serve.gov, will be a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities. It offers "tool kits" for do-it-yourself projects and will enable volunteers to share stories and ideas.

Jeff Wilklow, a former Points of Light Foundation officer, said the initiative is unique because it emphasizes working in areas that Obama sees as keys to an economic recovery: energy, education, health care and places hit hardest by the economy.

1Sky, an energy-policy coalition, hopes to recruit volunteers in every state to knock on doors to talk about global warming and share energy-saving tips with homeowners.

"We've never seen an administration with this depth of commitment" to the environment and public service, 1Sky campaign director Gillian Caldwell said. "This is a great opportunity to attract people for a cause."

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