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'Swinging a Hammer, Swinging a Brush'

For Rep. Doris Matsui, remembering Sept. 11 is a hands-on effort

Everyone knows Happy Days takes place in Milwaukee and Family Ties in Columbus, Ohio.

Here's a tougher trivia question:  Where does Eight Is Enough take place?

If you said Sacramento, Calif., you were only half right. Like most shows, the series is set in a made-for-TV version of the real city.

Find a 9/11 National Day of Service volunteer opportunity. >>

Only in a saccharine, sanitized Sacramento could a fussbudget like Dick Van Patten marry a fox like Betty Buckley. There was no crime, no poverty, no pollution — and, aside from the irritating fifth-season addition of Ralph Macchio, no serious youth issues.

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, 65, a Democrat, comes from the real Sacramento, California’s fifth district. And she knows all too well that her role in the nation's capital is to address the very real issues confronting her electorate back home.

But she also knows that the folks she serves have an irreplaceable role, too. It’s to volunteer.

That sense of duty is seeping "deep into the human fabric of communities now," says the three-term congresswoman, and drastically changing society.

This is why she has a long schedule for this year's 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. She will head out early on Sept. 11 to Hands On Sacramento, a group that matches volunteers with projects that need their help. Then she'll visit the city's transitional Oak Park neighborhood, where she will join hundreds of other Sacramento volunteers in a blocklong Habitat for Humanity project. She'll wind up her day of service at a NeighborWorks house-painting project.

A frequent volunteer, she's ready for the day's long punch list — "swinging a hammer, swinging a paintbrush," she calls it. And if it rains, the Asian American grandmother says, "quite frankly, that’s fun."

To Matsui, the Oak Park turnout is a familiar demonstration of American cooperation. "This is probably the only country in the world with this kind of sense of community," she says. "There is a commitment to assure those families in that neighborhood that people really care. We are not going to leave them behind."

Matsui is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; she also serves as co-chair of the National Service Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators. From those experiences, she has gained this perspective:  Something is evolving in the world of community service — a heightened set of demands.

Next: Honor the spirit of community. >>

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