From President Kennedy onward presidents "all have this shared belief in a call to the American people" to engage in civic-minded activity, says Michelle Nunn, the CEO of Points of Light. The fact that presidents of both political parties, right up to Mr. Obama, have been strong supporters of volunteerism "shows the common ground around service," she says.
Volunteering can be a great antidote to the discouragement of sharply partisan politics. "People are disheartened about the polarization they see reflected in the political landscape [today]," Ms. Nunn says. "So one of the themes of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend is 'unite in America's service.'
"And I do believe that if you look at the history of this country, and you think about one of the defining characteristics of this country, it has been … that we have a great civic spirit and a great sense of citizenship and service."