Obama kicks off inaugural events with National Day of Service, faith groups participate

(Photo Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paint shelves at Burrville Elementary School as they participate in a day of service, hoping to encourage Americans to follow suit with volunteering projects nationwide in Washington January 19, 2013.

President Barack Obama participated in an elementary school makeover project in Washington, D.C. on Saturday along with hundreds of volunteers to mark the National Day of Service, as volunteers around the country took part in similar events.

President Obama, who started the event in 2009, spoke about its meaning, which comes ahead of the holiday to commemorate the work of The Rev. Martin Luther King and Presidential Inaugural activities taking place through Tuesday. A Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service will take place Tuesday in the capital at the Washington National Cathedral.

Obama said the turnout for events related to service showed a "huge hunger on the part of young people to get involved and get engaged," according to NBC News. Saturday's event took place at Burrvile Elementary.

"This is really what America is about, this is what we celebrate," he said. "This inauguration, it's a symbol of how our democracy works and how we peacefully transfer power, but it should also be an affirmation that we're all in this together, and we've got to look out for each other, and we've got to work hard on behalf of each other."

Also present to serve were first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife Jill.

In Billings, Montana, volunteers gathered at Friendship House of Christian Service on Saturday morning to clean up the South Side community Center, according to the Billings Gazette.

The event was spurred by a call from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, asking Mike Yakawich, chairman of the South Side Task Force, if he could lead a project in the city.

He said he liked the idea of tying the inauguration to the National Day of Service.

"I really like the service component," he said. "It pulls everyone to a common ground, to a grassroots effort."

Michelle Nunn, CEO of Points of Light, remarked on the relation between service and faith. The organization was created in 1990 after former President George H.W. Bush called the vision of volunteeers a "thousand points of light" in his inaugural address in 1989. The organization says it "encourages and empowers the spirit of service."

She told the Christian Science Monitor that volunteering means making new connections and friendships – its "being about something that's larger than yourself," she said. "And most important is the feeling of having made a difference. All the great faith traditions point you to [the idea] that people find meaning in life by being of service to others."

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