In November 2004, Eric Tanenblatt helped launch Hands On Georgia, a network organizing community volunteer efforts statewide. The launch coincidentally followed a contentious electoral cycle, George W. Bush vs. John Kerry, and at the time Tanenblatt said he hoped promoting volunteerism would be a way to bridge the divide between red and blue, liberal and conservative voters.
Fast forward to Nov-ember 2008 and the end of another contentious cycle after which President Barack Obama emerged victorious.
“I’m an optimist,” says Tanenblatt, a well-known and well-connected supporter of conservative causes and politicians. “The tone set by [Obama] is one of reaching out in a bipartisan way to unite the country. From election night on, he has reached out to ‘red’ Americans. I feel hopeful about the thaw in politics but time will tell.”
Tanenblatt’s involvement grew out of his friendship with Hands On Network founder Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, a revered figure in Georgia politics – and a Democrat.
Now senior managing director of the national government affairs group at McKenna Long & Aldridge in Atlanta, Tanenblatt held a number of political posts, including chief of staff for Gov. Sonny Perdue. He resigned that post to serve as state coordinator for the G-8 Summit held at Sea Island in July 2004.
Additionally, Tanenblatt worked with his mentor, the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, in both campaign and staff positions, and held a staff position in the Department of Health and Human Services during the first President George Bush’s administration.
Tanenblatt’s job at McKenna Long & Aldridge sets him squarely at the intersection of business and politics, assisting organizations regarding the “how to’s” of doing business with the government. “Much of what I do is more broad and strategic,” he says, “using my experience, exposure and knowledge to help organizations reach their objectives. I like the whole ‘policy’ arena because of the impact it can have.”
While he enjoys his ‘day job,’ he loves to stump for volunteerism, on a corporate and personal level; he served the Hands On Network at every level, local, state and national.
In June 2008, Tan-enblatt’s volunteer profile rose even higher when he was appointed by former President George W. Bush to a term on the 15-member board of directors for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Board members, each of whom must be approved by the U.S. Senate, set policy and direction for the independent federal agency administering such programs as AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America.
Tanenblatt believes the economic crisis adds urgency to the call for community service. “I believe there needs to be a call on professions to ask their members to dedicate a certain number of hours to community volunteerism,” he says.
Just over four years ago, Hands On Georgia launched with the goal of bringing 20,000 new volunteers into the fold and logging 500,000 service hours. “I’m glad we set realistic goals,” Tanenblatt says, laughing. “We now have 68,000 new volunteers and all 159 counties in Georgia were engaged during last year’s Hands On Georgia week.”
Atlanta will soon become headquarters for the Points of Light Institute, a single organization with an international reach resulting from the last summer’s merger of the Hands On Network and Points of Light Foundation.
Though Georgia still lags in volunteerism, it has moved from 47th to 44th, nationally. Tanenblatt sees the glass half full.
“The overall rate of volunteerism in the U.S. has declined so we’re bucking the trend!” he says. “We’re all Americans first, and want what’s good for our communities. I believe the service movement is about to ratchet up to the next level.”