WASHINGTON – Most visions of musician Jon Bon Jovi include tight pants,big ‘80s hair and lots of leather.
But the rock star came to Washington Thursday not to sing in a sold-out concert but to perform for a different audience: the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.
“Volunteerism is hip,” he said. “I want to say,‘Volunteerism is the new black.'”
More than 2,500 volunteers and service program participants from across the nation are attending the conference,which ends Saturday. They are here to gain skills and develop strategies to engage more Americans in volunteer services.
They heard from ABC and NPR political commentator Cokie Roberts,author Mark Victor Hansen of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” fame and “painter of light” Thomas Kinkade.
Bon Jovi said he has been “playing Robin Hood” to “do something for me,a way to give back” for years. He is a part owner of the Philadelphia Soul Arena Football League team,which incorporates community service into its players' mission as athletes.
The team helps the Northern Home for Children,which provides a safe haven for Philadelphia children and a safety net for families facing extraordinary challenges.
“They really are committed to giving back,and when they pick their players,they're not just good athletes,they're good people,” said Donna Bolno,Northern Home's director of development.
Roberts told the crowd that volunteerism has changed from “ladies' work” to include both genders. She called for work places to become more family friendly so employees and their families can volunteer more often.
In similar spirit,the conference gave awards to everyday people for extraordinary dedication to volunteering and service.
Washingtonian Robert L. Woodson received the Lenore and George Romney Citizen Volunteer Award for demonstrating great spirit of volunteering and citizenship.
Woodson,president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise,has worked with youth intervention and violence prevention programs since the ‘60s. His programs have helped end gang violence in Philadelphia and Washington neighborhoods and have spread to other cities.
Woodson said the capital has the highest black median income in the United States and blacks running most of the city but “still has the second-highest mortality rate in the Eastern hemisphere,second only to Haiti,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said individuals should place the welfare of the state above their own prejudices to move in a new direction.
Richard Semmler received the Daily Points of Light Award for those who make great efforts to meet critical needs in their communities.
A Northern Virginia Community College math professor,Semmler made his first charitable contribution of $25 in 1968. Since then,he has given away more than $770,000,and his goal is to give $1 million to charity. Much of the money has gone to the college.
He makes extra money by writing and editing math textbooks. He also teaches classes through e-mail,videos and mail to give him more time for his volunteer work.
If Semmler's contributions are mostly monetary,then his service program twin could be Kent Amos.
Amos,a Washington resident,has cared for more than 80 children in his home over the past 20 years. He has worked with children and families in schools,public housing projects and prisons.
Amos and his wife,Carol,began caring for at-risk children and providing after-school tutoring,guidance and dinner for some of their son's classmates. When the effort became too large for their home,they moved to schools and public housing projects as “Kids House.”
Amos has guided 18 of the young people from high school through college,and 18 more are in college now. He estimates he's spent more than $250,000 on their tuition.
Last year,64.5 million Americans volunteered and raised roughly $282 billion,according to the conference's Web site. The Points of Light Foundations & Volunteer Center National Network and the Cooperation for National and Community Service helped put the conference together.