At graduations all across the country, commencement speakers have been extolling the importance of service. Here was the president at Notre Dame:
"When you serve, it doesn't just improve your community; it makes you part of your community. It breaks down walls. It fosters cooperation. And when that happens - when people set aside their difference to work in common effort towards a common good; when they struggle together, and sacrifice together, and learn from one another -- all things are possible."
Noble sentiments, for sure. But nothing really new. Similar words are spoken every year.
But there is something different this time around. This time it feels like the soaring rhetoric could actually be matched by boots-on-the-ground action. This time it feels like making service a part of our daily lives, in a way that can transform our communities and ourselves, may actually happen.
This summer, the White House is planning to issue a national call to service. But already a group of individuals from the worlds of tech, marketing, academia, and public service, inspired by President Obama's vow to make service a "a central cause" of his presidency, have banded together to create a new website that aims to become a craigslist for service. It's called All For Good.
The site, which is still in its infancy (you can check out its first, early iteration here), brings together listings from a variety of service organizations (and after the White House puts the call out, I'm sure many more will be signing on) to help people from all over the country connect to volunteering opportunities in their area that are meaningful to them. All For Good will soon be transferred to a new non-profit, Our Good Works, founded by the people who initiated the project.
Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist, who has been working on the All For Good team, puts it this way: "All For Good makes it easier for Americans to find a way to help others out -- to give someone a break -- in a new spirit of volunteerism and service."
During the campaign, Obama regularly expressed his belief that "when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem - they are the answer."
The people behind All For Good, who work at places like Google, Adobe, YouTube, Causecast, and the Craigslist Foundation, have set out to prove him right. And they are putting their expertise in technology and the new ways we communicate at the service of service.
"There is great enthusiasm within the developer community towards improving the world around us," says Google's Paul Rademacher, the lead engineer on the project. "We're proud to release All for Good as a free, open-source, open-data product that uses the latest web technologies to help people serve their communities and share their spirit for good."
Since the site has been built in part by Google engineers (using the company's "20 percent time" philosophy that allows employees to spend one day a week working on passion projects), the power of search is being applied to service and volunteerism like never before. And with Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect built into it from the start, All For Good is using the backbone of social networking to help people connect and find service opportunities that fit their specific talents and aspirations.
"It's remarkable to see how companies, foundations and nonprofit organizations have come together to create All For Good," UCLA professor Jonathan Greenblatt, who worked on Obama's presidential transition team and is part of All For Good's advisory group, told me. "It's a unique effort to enable more Americans to serve. The open source nature of the application means that the key ingredient will be the energy and imagination of ordinary citizens who use the platform to innovate and strengthen their communities in new and exciting ways."
If All For Good can indeed become a craigslist for service, bringing together supply and demand, connecting those who can help with those in need, it will be an exciting step down the road of turning familiar words about service and community into acts that reduce the human suffering that has been exacerbated by the hard times we are facing.
As the nation's Misery Index continues to rise, our definition of service needs to expand. It's not just about volunteering in places we all know need help like soup kitchens and food banks (though, by all means, please do continue to support those!); All For Good is also structured to remind us of the countless creative and outside-the-box ways we can serve. Including those who have been negatively impacted by the downturn. Across America, unemployed people from all walks of professional life are finding ways to apply their skills to helping those in need. A perfect example of this is the growing number of laid off lawyers and accountants offering their services to people facing foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Back in January, on the eve of Obama's inauguration, I wrote: "Barack Obama is not the only one being inaugurated on January 20th. We all are... Now, more than ever, we must mine the most underutilized resource available to us: ourselves."
The All For Good volunteers have taken that notion to heart -- and we are all the better for it. Check out the site, and sign up to serve.
As a counterpoint to the (justifiably) gloomy tone of much reporting about the economic crisis, HuffPost is going to be highlighting stories of service, local heroes, and acts of kindness (random and otherwise). So if you read about or hear about uplifting stories or good deeds in your community (or do a good deed yourself), please let us know about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.