Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport

I'll never forget my first Hands On Atlanta volunteer project nearly 20 years ago. I remember a spilled vat of applesauce and getting lost more than once. 

I remember how uncomfortable it felt, at first, to join a group of strangers and to work together to prepare and deliver meals to people living with AIDS. And I remember how good it felt to be able to do something that mattered in just a few hours. 

I remember all I learned that day about HIV – how it affects the human body and how fear and prejudice can ostracize and dehumanize our neighbors.

I remember how much I admired the young volunteer who led the project. She had tattoos (20 years ago!), a nose ring, and a t-shirt that said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” She was very cool.

I remember how a bunch of strangers became neighbors that day.

A few days ago, the Points of Light Board gave me the opportunity to become its CEO. I’m tremendously honored. I’m proud to take the mantle from my dear friend and favorite visionary Michelle Nunn and I’m so excited about the tremendous possibilities ahead.

Twenty-five years ago, President George H. W. Bush challenged every American to be a point of light. He helped spark a modern-day service movement, and grassroots leaders like Michelle began inventing new ways for people like me to serve others, solve problems and engage in civic life.

Today millions of points of light are making a difference in lives and communities across the globe. From elementary school students to millennials to boomers and beyond, volunteers are multiplying their impact by deploying all their assets – their time, talent, voice and money – to create change.

Volunteering is being reimagined, modernized and, yes, supercharged. And, still, what was true 25 years ago drives us today: Every problem in America is being solved somewhere in America. Every successful life includes service to others. Every single one of us has a role to play. And democracy is not a spectator sport.

I’d love to hear from you! Please send your stories about volunteering and your ideas for building a stronger service movement to me at And I encourage you to follow the Daily Point of Light Award winners each day. Their stories are powerful and instructive, and I think you’ll be as inspired as I am, every single day.