Image: Michelle Obama
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images file
Michelle Obama spoke at a luncheon Tuesday for Washington-area service and philanthropy groups. She encouraged community leaders to take advantage of the national service law.
updated 6/16/2009 3:14:59 PM ET 2009-06-16T19:14:59

First lady Michelle Obama said Tuesday that struggling communities shouldn't look to government alone for help.

Obama told a luncheon of Washington-area service and philanthropy groups that member work is key to making a difference in their neighborhoods and schools. She said leaders should take advantage of a recently signed public service law to engage new volunteers and put them to work.

"Washington can only do so much," Obama said. "Communities are built and rebuilt by regular people."

She said the national service law would funnel thousands of volunteers to such nonprofit groups. She warned groups to be ready for new volunteers and then use them help others in real ways.

"People really want to get involved. They really want do," Obama said. But she also said the key to keeping them interested is for them to see results.

The first lady highlighted her firsthand experience as a community organizer and her background running an AmeriCorps program. She joked about the headaches of the progress reports, fundraising pitches and financial ledgers.

"It's necessary, but at times it can drive you nuts," Obama said.

Obama also called on philanthropic groups to offer support, especially in multiyear commitments. She says that when she ran community service plans in Chicago, the multiyear grants helped her write more realistic budgets and invest in technology and fundraising.

"This just doesn't happen out of goodwill. It takes real resources to move things forward," she said.

The first lady offered encouragement to service organizations whose budgets have faced trouble as the economic meltdown slowed charitable giving and local grants.

"As tired as you may be, we're going to need you. ... We're going to tapping you more and more," she said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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