Remarks at a Breakfast Meeting With Representatives From the Private Sector Engaged in Volunteer Work

September 21, 1981

May I, ladies and gentlemen, first of all thank you very much for being here. You know, it's unusual for someone who grew up in politics -- you're not supposed to reach for your checkbook; I want blood this time -- [laughter] -- new blood.

We need to pick your brains very much. All of you here are engaged, in addition to your own work, in volunteer work with organizations of various kinds that are serving the public. And I have a distinct feeling, and have for a long time, that we have drifted, as a people, too far away from the voluntarism that so characterized our country for so many years. And we have, in a sense, abdicated and turned over to government things that used to be functions of the community and the neighborhood. And now with what we're doing here in our economic plan, there is a great need to return to that.

That often-quoted-by-afterdinner speakers Frenchman, De Tocqueville, who came to this country so long ago to find out what was the secret of our greatness and all -- there was one line in his book, when he went back and wrote a book for his fellow citizens, in which he said, ``You know, there's something strange in the United States.'' He said, ``Some individual sees a problem.'' And he said, ``They walk across the street to a friend or a neighbor and they tell them of the problem, and they talk about it. And pretty soon, a committee is formed. And the next thing you know, they are solving the problem.'' And you won't believe this: He wrote, ``But not a single bureaucrat was involved.'' [Laughter]

From the old raising-of-the-barn when someone's barn went up in flames, in the farm days, to every kind of activity in recent days, more modern times, I remember -- now that government has gotten so greatly involved, and with the best of intentions -- I don't fault their intentions -- but we know, and you know better than anyone else with what you're doing, that if you take the various ways of helping people, the one with the least overhead is the private effort; next is the community or local effort if it is a public effort, but the highest of all is the Federal Government.

In addition to that, trying to form rules and regulations that will fit all of the various problems around the country ignores the diversity of this land of ours. I can tell you of an example when I was Governor. In our neighboring State of Oregon, up in Portland, Oregon, people like yourselves in the business community, dealing with the very real problem of high school dropouts, had formed an organization that was tremendously successful in preventing and reducing this rate of dropout. And then the Federal Government adopted a program, and one of the first places they dropped in on was Portland, Oregon. And the first task was to drive that private organization out of business and take over, and they weren't nearly as successful as the private group had been.

There's one of you here at this table, Mr. Monson [Elder Thomas S. Monson, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.] -- I don't know how many of you are familiar with what, in his church, has occurred, with the literally providing of a welfare program that I believe is far superior to anything the government has been able to manage -- taking care of their people, but based also on the work ethic. Because one of the other things that government has done with its good intentions is violate that old rule that you can give a hungry man a fish and he'll be hungry tomorrow, or you can teach him to fish and he'll never be hungry again.

In California there is an aircraft plant that all on its own, in a nearby high school, heard about the dropout problem, instituted a program of its own, where young people who have to be imminent dropouts in their school are given afterschool work at this plant and training, on-the-job training, because they found that one of the great causes of dropouts is lack of money, need for money.

It's a two-way street for the company by this time, because not only do they prevent the dropouts -- because the requirement is they can only have those jobs as long as they stay in high school; they can't drop out -- then, diploma in hand, they have a pretty well-trained cadre of young people coming along who get permanent jobs after graduation in their company. I didn't mean to deal so much on dropouts. There are any other number of things.

I've talked to some clergymen who are beginning to recognize that the churches have stood back and let government do, in the realm of neighbor-helping-neighbor, what really should be the individual function of their members. Some are investigating the idea of child care centers. How easy it would be. Working mothers within a church and other mothers and women who would like to volunteer and do some good work, the church has the facilities to bring them together and say: Let's establish that with volunteer care here in our own church.

The possibilities are limitless for what we can take over that government has once been doing. Why you're here is, as I say, for us to find out from you who are already engaged in that, how we can work out a plan. We intend to go forward. Jim Rosebush is going to remain here with you after I have to leave. He's going to be the executive secretary of the commission that we will form, the committee, for the very purpose of finding out plans and ways that voluntarism in the community can take over and do many of the things that are not being very well done by the government today.

I have one last example of what can happen when it begins officially, other than doing it the community way -- again, while I was Governor, and again, I'm sorry that the example has to do with dropouts. There was a Federal program where they paid students who would be given jobs in the school doing work that needed to be done, washing the blackboards and all that sort of thing, after school was over. And then they came in and found that some of the students weren't juvenile delinquents, and therefore they were fired. They couldn't have those jobs. Now, if anyone can think of a better temptation for a kid to go out and break a window simply to get back on the job and get paid, I don't know what it would be. No reward for those who were doing what they should do; plenty of reward for those who weren't.

Well, that's enough of that. Now I'm going to sit back for the time that's left, and I'd like to hear from you on the ideas and the thoughts that you might have. And when the schedule says that I have to go, Jim will remain here as long as you can give of your time to this. But we are going to make it a major project. I intend to be speaking, making a major address on this, very shortly, to the business community to find out how we can step in and resolve some of these problems.

So, thank you again very much for being here.

Note: The President spoke at 9 a.m. in the Family Dining Room at the White House, where he met with representatives from 17 private sector organizations.

James S. Rosebush is Special Assistant to the President, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff.