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Obama: National Day of Service 'is really what America is about'

Americans join in with President Barack Obama to honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy by volunteering on the National Day of Service. NBC News' Ron Mott reports.

During the whirlwind weekend to mark the end of the his first term and the start of his second, President Obama, joined by first lady Michelle Obama, began Saturday's National Day of Service participating in an elementary school makeover project in Washington, D.C., along with approximately 500 volunteers.

Obama said the turnout across the country for the day's events, leading up to a national holiday to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., indicated a "huge hunger on the part of young people to get involved and to get engaged."

“This is really what America is about, this is what we celebrate," Obama said while speaking at Burrville Elementary. "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.”

Michelle Obama said the National Day of Service should be a symbol of the kind of work that needs to be done for the next four years and beyond.

“For all the young people and we’ve got a lot of young people…we’re passing the baton onto you all, so the goal is that as you make your way through life, who are you pulling up behind you? And as long as you’re pulling somebody up behind you you’re doing the right thing.”

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were also on hand to serve.

“Those who serve our men and women in uniform, our wounded warriors, our veterans and our first responders – they give so much of themselves – and for us, it’s our obligation to give back,” Jill Biden said Saturday in a tent on the National Mall. “I hope this is just the first of many of the days that you all volunteer this year and serve your community and our country is something we can do every day all the time for the rest of our lives.”

Pool via NBC News

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paint a bookshelf at Burrville Elementary School in Washington, D.C., on the National Day of Service on Saturday, January 19 2013.

Also participating in the day's events were celebrities, musicians and television personalities, including Ben Folds, Star Jones, Chelsea Clinton and Eva Longoria.

Obama started the day of service in 2009 and said he hopes his initiative will become a tradition for future presidents.

“America’s never been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us together,” Obama said on Jan. 4, in a White House press release.

“Inaugurations are about more than just celebrating, they’re about coming together to make our country a better place,” Obama said in a video message encouraging people to sign up to serve their communities on Saturday.

Thousands of volunteers in all 50 states are slated to participate this year.

  • In Washington, D.C., volunteers will prepare more than 10,000 care packages for soldiers, veterans and first responders.
  • In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city agencies will be engaging in service projects in communities affected by Superstorm Sandy.
  • Volunteers who signed up in California will give food and winter coats to the homeless.
  • In Chicago, service members will gather at Navy Pier to write letters and put together care packages for service members overseas.
  • Sixty-two AmeriCorps members in Oklahoma will travel to a neighborhood once segregated by Jim Crow laws to repair homes for low-income families.  

Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said the day of service makes the inauguration “truly a national celebration.”

The president will officially be sworn in for his second term at noon on Sunday in a private ceremony at the White House, shortly after Biden. He’ll take the oath of office again on Monday before hundreds of thousands of onlookers on the National Mall, followed by a parade and formal balls in Washington.

President Obama encourages everyone to sign up and serve as part of the National Day of Service on Jan. 19, 2013.