Vice President Joseph Biden participates during the National Day of Service (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- "You guys ready to kick off this day of doing a whole bunch of good?!"
Tommy McFly, a spry Washington, D.C. radio host, is looking over a few hundred volunteers gathered beneath a massive heated tent that stretches for a block on the National Mall, the hub of the National Day of Service, the first official event for President Barack Obama's second Inauguration. The tent is filled with booths from government agencies and non-profits offering community service opportunities.
Across town, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden are at work on their own projects.
The president and first lady visited Burrville Elementary School in northeast Washington, where they helped stain bookshelves.
"This inauguration is going to be a symbol of how our democracy works...but it should also be an affirmation that we are all in this together," Obama told a crowd at the school.
At the DC Armory, Biden and his wife Jill spent some time putting together service packages for members of the armed services abroad while Obama joined about 500 volunteers fixing up an elementary school in the city.
The festivities are only a part what will be a national day of events. Across the country, non-profit groups are organizing hundreds of service projects for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
Here in Washington, volunteers are gathered for an all-day marathon of community service projects--and maybe also to catch a glimpse of actress Eva Longoria and former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, who are headlining the morning rally.
"Let's start off this new year by renewing America's promise," Longoria tells the audience to whoops and cheers. "We're going to give back to our schools and students and we're going to be serving our community. And you'll be serving your country when you serve your community."
With the stage bookended by giant Jumbo Tron screens, the event resembles a campaign rally mixed with a splash of county fair, trade show and a hands-on science museum. Display booths for government agencies and non-profit groups fill most of the tent, while employees sign up new recruits to pledge volunteer service in 2013. The booths are divided into sections beneath well-lit banners like "Economic Development," "Health," "Faith," and "Veterans & Military Families."
After Clinton, Longoria and Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau finish brief motivational speeches, the crowd disperses to the booths to pledge volunteer hours and add their names on non-profit mailing lists.
The whole tent is buzzing with activity: At Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots booth, children make paper birds from stencils to paste on windows so real birds don't smash into them. Teenagers at the Best Buddies International section sign up to mentor children and activists join the Sierra Club's campaign against forest logging.
Across the way, The American Legion has teamed up with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs by providing cards for people to write support letters to wounded soldiers in hospitals throughout the country.
"I just wanted to let them know how much I appreciate what their doing," says Susan Schesnol from Scottsdale, Arizona, who is writing several letters to soldiers she'll likely never meet.
Around another corner, a physicist from the Department of Energy has set up a bicycle to a row of light bulbs, and is showing out-of-shape visitors how difficult it is to peddle electricity into old fashioned light bulbs. Nearby, a line has formed for autographs from NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Serena Auñón.
Every once in a while, the Clinton and Longoria entourages pass by, inspiring almost everyone in eye shot to drop what they're doing and tag along. The two women, working different sides of the tent, navigate their way from booth to booth, stringing along dozens of photographers and fans along the way.
"That's Hillary Clinton!" yells a teenager in a red beanie as Chelsea Clinton flows passed him. "I mean, it's WhatSerDaughter's name!"
On Saturday night the first and second ladies, Michele Obama and Jill Biden, will attend the Kids’ Inaugural Concert at the Washington, D.C. convention center.
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