Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by CEO Michael D. Smith at the “Thirty Years Forward Event” honoring President William J. Clinton at the Clinton Presidential Center
Michael D. Smith, the eighth CEO of AmeriCorps, gave remarks celebrating the leadership of President Clinton and the 30th anniversary of AmeriCorps on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. You can watch the entire event here.
CEO Smith's remarks as prepared are below.
Good morning, everybody. Thank you, Stephanie, for that kind introduction. It is truly an honor to be here today.
I remember meeting with Stephanie not long after I was nominated. She conveyed just how excited she and the President were to celebrate this milestone with us. Well, I guess, when you look around, you can see she’s a woman of her word.
Thank you, Stephanie, and the entire team at the Clinton Foundation! And thank you to our friends and partners at VOICES for National Service, More Perfect, and With Honor Action for helping us make this celebration possible.
I know that we all woke up this morning in grief and prayer with the people of Lewiston, Maine, who have experienced a horrific tragedy. I am grateful, as I know all of you are, for first responders and law enforcement officials.
But I am also grateful for the thousands of AmeriCorps members and volunteers that are working across this nation to prevent gun violence in all its forms. Today, we are all Lewiston.
I have the awesome privilege to serve as the eighth CEO of AmeriCorps at a time when our members and volunteers have met historic challenges with historic, innovative, and bold solutions.
As we’ve seen over the past 30 years, every single time America called … AmeriCorps answered…
In the moments after the September 11th attacks, AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers ran toward the heartbreak and destruction.
After Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf, AmeriCorps was there—and stayed long after the cameras had gone away. Over the next decade, 40,000 members helped rebuild homes and rebuild hope after the storm.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we helped over 12 million people with testing and vaccination…tutoring and providing food for families in need, including right here at the Clinton Presidential Center.
We launched Public Health AmeriCorps with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rebuild our public health workforce.
We are working with the Department of Education on the National Partnership for Student Success to recruit 250,000 new tutors, mentors, and coaches.
And we are tackling climate change and environmental justice head on—serving as the hub for President Biden’s newly launched American Climate Corps.
In 1994, the first class of 20,000 AmeriCorps members began their year of service. Today, 200,000 AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers continue to answer America’s call in all 50 states, territories, and scores of Native Nations.
President Clinton—for the last 30 years, AmeriCorps has demonstrated the power of ordinary citizens to create extraordinary impact. And thanks to the foundation you’ve laid, we will continue to show the world that AmeriCorps is not just a moment…it’s a movement.
President Clinton—I don’t know if you remember this, but we first met when I was 15 years old! I was the Northeast Youth-of-the-Year for Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Four other regional awardees and I were recognized for our community and volunteer service—and we were invited to meet you in the Oval Office!
I was a kid from an underserved community in Western Massachusetts, born to teen parents. We didn’t have much money, but we had love in abundance. My Boys and Girls Club – along with my church and school – was the village that Secretary Clinton often talks about – that raised this child.
My mom said she sent me to the Boys & Girls Club for cheap daycare, but it quickly became a second family; a crew of mentors, coaches, and advocates. Caring adults who lifted me up and sometimes kept me in line.
It was at my Boys & Girls Club that I first met volunteers from the Foster Grandparent and VISTA programs. Volunteers and staff read with us, took us camping, taught us about Black pride and social justice, and gave us the opportunity to serve and care for our community when we were still little kids.
These changemakers, like so many of you, weren’t looking to get rich. They weren’t looking to get famous or even to get credit. Mr. President—they woke up every day, with a deep belief, like you, that our neighbors’ children are all of our children. And with a hope that kids like me… would realize dreams bigger than they could ever imagine for themselves.
I must admit that day at the White House nearly three decades ago is a bit of a blur. I remember Teddy Roosevelt’s Peace Prize in the Roosevelt Room...seeing your cat Socks being walked on a leash…you talking about President Kennedy’s desk where John-John would hide in the cut out…
But most of all I remember meeting one of my heroes:
A man from a little town called Hope.
A man who had a single mom (at times) like me.
A man who loved soul music and soul food – like me.
A man who dedicated his life in service to kids and communities that might otherwise be left on the sidelines forever looking in.
Mr. President—you show us the promise and potential of America: that where you come from doesn’t limit where you can go; that even those who have a little, have a lot to give; that service holds the power to transform those who are being served and those who are called to serve.
This is the promise of America—and it’s also the promise of AmeriCorps.
And as we look ahead to the next 30 years, we have some work to do together.
During the swearing-in ceremony for the first class of AmeriCorps members, Mr. President, you said:
“Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty…when it is all said and done, it comes down to three simple questions: What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it?”
Well, let me tell you what we’re going to do about it.
First, ensure that service is not a luxury for the few—but an opportunity for the many. We will continue to reduce barriers to service, increase living allowances and other benefits, and make our programs more accessible.
We also will focus on programs and partners that provide members with the skills and training they need to build transformative careers…and help them turn a year of service into a lifetime of social action and civic engagement.
We will continue to demonstrate to employers, universities, and elected officials how AmeriCorps strengthens our nation, fuels the social sector, and represents America at its best.
And we will bring members and volunteers together from diverse backgrounds and across differences—knowing that through service, we can see each other’s humanity and realize that what we have in common is stronger than forces that try so hard to divide us.
Anyone introducing President Clinton might start with his historic and well-known achievements:
A Rhodes scholar…
The first Democratic president in six decades to be elected twice…
The architect of our country’s longest economic expansion…
And the founder of one of the world’s most effective and innovative foundations focused on global health, equity, and economic opportunity.
But everyone in this room knows and loves him because of his lifelong dedication to service, volunteering, and civic engagement.
Mr. President, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
When you joined Boys Nation through the American Legion to learn how to build and spread democracy…you took the first step.
When you were a student at Georgetown University and spent time as a volunteer in DC’s Northeast neighborhoods…you took the first step.
When you were governor and helped launch the Delta Service Corps—alongside the great Billie Ann Myers—to tutor children, support food pantries, and provide disaster relief across Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi….you took the first step.
As President, when you set your sights on the digital divide, making sure every child could stay connected and informed…you took the first step.
And 30 years ago, when you signed the National and Community Service Trust Act into law, you took a powerful and lasting step…
To unify our national service strategy and bring existing volunteer programs—like VISTA, RSVP, Foster Grandparents, and Senior Companions, under one roof; to bring people together across political parties and lines of difference; and to create pathways for those who serve to pay for college, explore new careers, and build leadership skills that last a lifetime.
Thanks to your steps—and those of Eli Segal and Harris Wofford, who are looking down on us today with pride, along with 1.3 million AmeriCorps alumni—you have left behind completed staircases—of dreams realized, hope restored, and faith renewed.
Ladies and gentlemen—please join me with gratitude and appreciation for the 42nd President of these United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton.