Change Notes: The Presidential Citizens Medal goes to one of my heroes

Feb 18, 2013




I'm happy to join a chorus of celebrants in paying tribute to our nation's most passionate advocate for national and community service and one of my heroes, Harris Wofford. 

Last week President Obama gave Harris and 17 others the Citizens Medal, the highest honor a civilian can receive. As the President explained, the medal honors "the courageous heart, the selfless spirit, the inspiring actions of extraordinary Americans."

Harris, 87, has certainly lived an extraordinary life of service. A friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an advisor to President John F. Kennedy, Harris fought alongside civil rights leaders to end segregation and advance the march of justice. He helped Sargent Shriver start the Peace Corps and served as its first director in Africa.

Harris served in the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania and played a key role in drafting the legislation that created AmeriCorps, giving hundreds of thousands of Americans the chance to serve their country. He went on to be the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a co-chair of America's Promise Alliance for children and youth, and a Points of Light board member.

Harris endeared himself to me and hundreds of others when, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he arrived at the HandsOn Volunteer Action Center in New Orleans without official title or responsibilities. He just wanted to help. The conditions were rough. Dozens of people slept on mattresses in an open hall, and Harris slept alongside them, without hesitation or fanfare or even the sense that this might be unusual for a former Senator in his 80s.

He traveled the region, rolling up his sleeves to build playgrounds to rally the embattled spirits of devastated communities and to rebuild the homes of those who had lost everything. This guileless idealism and undaunted commitment to repairing the world is the story of Harris's entire life.

President Obama honored Harris for "giving generations of Americans the chance to serve their country" and for "upholding national service as one of the nation's highest causes."

My hat's off to Harris – one of the most vital, most enlightened people I know – for helping to save the world with boldness, laughter and ingenuity. He is truly a point of light.

You can watch the entire awards ceremony here. And, if you're inspired by points of light in your life, honor them with the President's Volunteer Service Award today.

In service,  

Michelle Nunn

CEO, Points of Light