When President Barack Obama called on Americans to serve their country as soldiers in a domestic war, he changed the conversation about service work across the nation.

Many elected leaders have made the same call, some convincingly, but few have had the context or background that will help the message carry to corners of the country. The gravity of Obama’s inaugural service-to-country message will encompass institutions from the smallest grade school to the largest corporation, if only because Obama’s address was seen by more people than any such messages that have come before.

Like other historic speeches, Obama’s address will likely be played over and over for students of social studies and world history. The message of service will thus find a larger audience.

The prospect for expanding volunteer service to community and country is tremendously exciting. In every community in America, dozens of volunteer and service organizations are already in place. Local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs already work on dozens of projects to help children and those in need. College and university clubs stock food shelves, provide the hungry with meals and drive the elderly to medical appointments.

Obama’s push for all Americans to do their part in solving our problems will most certainly provide a surge of service. He essentially called on all Americans to be part of the solution. No excuses. We can’t blame Washington, D.C. We can no longer blame government policies with which we disagree.

At the same time, Obama reiterated that public coffers are dwindling, and the need for volunteer help will grow.

Obama’s message evokes the same enthusiasm as the call to service John F. Kennedy championed in his “Ask not what your country can do for you” message almost five decades ago. But the Obama message comes from a person we know has been closer to those in need, and can speak more emotionally about that need. His message will likely carry much farther and deeper, and the service initiatives it may prompt are desperately needed.

— The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

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