Obama service initiative already bearing local fruit

When President Barack Obama took the oath of office Tuesday, “Organizing for America” became official.

Mesa County, however, benefitted several days earlier when the Veterans Administration Medical Center, 2121 North Ave., became the first local recipient of the program.

“They came to us and said, ‘What can we do for you on our day of service?’ ” said Paul Sweeney, spokesman for the hospital.

It was perfect timing, Sweeney said. The federal government recently changed many of the qualifications for veteran medical benefits. So on Saturday, 40 volunteers, mostly former Obama campaign workers, spread out across the Western Slope and staffed 17 booths, 10
of which were in Mesa County, and distributed information about who is eligible for veterans’ health benefits.

Locally the effort was organized by Warren Jones, a local musician, music teacher and Obama campaign worker, said Sheri Cogley, 36, a volunteer organizer and a former paid Obama staffer.

“We were just astounded with potentially how many veterans could be eligible for service, and they never applied,” Cogley said. “Our hope is to expand this into 19 Colorado counties and also in Utah and Wyoming.”

Organizing for America is a national effort. It is an extension of the Obama campaign organization. Instead of disbanding the grass-roots organization that swept him into the Oval Office, the Obama camp is revamping its volunteers to become a service organization.

In a YouTube video, Obama gives a rough vision of “Organizing for America.” He calls upon the many who have fought for change to continue their efforts through volunteering in their communities.

“We cannot do this without you,” Obama said.

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend several thousand volunteers across the nation took part in community service efforts.

Mackenzie Gibson, a 23-year-old Obama campaigner and now an Organizing for America volunteer, joined five others and donated time on MLK Day to serve breakfast to the residents of the Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley shelter, 2853 North Ave.

“We were very definitely inspired by Obama asking ordinary citizens to get involved in the community,” Gibson said. “That is something we haven’t had in a long time.”

Gibson said he served shelter residents breakfast.

“It was special in that it was a hot breakfast that they don’t normally have every morning,” he said.

Like Cogley and Jones, Gibson said he plans to do more in the community through Organizing for America. Anyone interested in volunteering should keep checking the Organizing for America Web site for future local events, Gibson said.


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