Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Members of the President's Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives

December 8, 1982

I'm glad that there was a certain pause there between the film and my being brought up here, because how do you talk with a grapefruit in your throat?

I thank you all very much, but it's I who should be applauding you and your neighbors and your fellow citizens doing the same. Bill [C. William Verity, Jr., Chairman of the President's Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives], you, your committee and the chairmen and all the Task Force members have worked very hard, and I'm personally very grateful. You've reawakened America's awareness of private answers for many of our problems. This is no small achievement. You've generated a wave of interest we can turn into a tide of enthusiasm. You've reminded us that as Thomas Jefferson said, ``We are all federalists. Our cause does not belong to any party or region or class.'' It is a bipartisan drive to help meet the needs of all our people to increase our self-reliance to make America great again.

Well, Bill, as I listen to your report, full of so many ideas and projects that you've found and shared across the country and as I watched your impressive film, I thought again how right I was to track you down in the mid-Atlantic and recruit you. And right there on the phone, he didn't even say, ``I'll call you back.'' He said, ``Yes,'' he'd do it. [Laughter] Then I included in my prayers that the ship would make a safe landing.

You've brought together 44 of the most innovative and dynamic individuals from around the country. And you've accomplished much. We can all be proud of your results. Of course, I didn't realize at the time how busy you'd keep me. I probably made as many phone calls and written as many letters and held as many meetings, as Bill told you, and visited as many cities on behalf of our private sector initiative program as I have for just about everything else that we've been doing. And frankly, I think that was proper, because I think this was just about as important as anything that I could be called upon to do -- our commitment to this project, to reaffirm belief in individual effort. And the private sector potential runs very deep.

America was built on the voluntary principle by good neighbors who knew that they had to rely on each other. We don't intend for the private sector to assume government's legitimate responsibilities, but revival of this resource is very important to our country's well-being. I believe Americans are still good and giving people, and encouraging that part of our national character is essential to the American renewal that we all seek.

As I've said, we must call upon every resource at our disposal if we're to grow in the decades ahead. And that's why we began to tap this wellspring of self-reliance even before I took office. Shortly after my election, I asked several people on our staff to begin working with groups in the private sector, not only with big business but with small businesses, neighborhood groups, union representatives, and civic and religious leaders to make helping our neighbors and our communities an honor and a privilege once again. During the early part of the administration, we talked with many of you, with hundreds of others, about promoting self-help activities, removing barriers to local initiatives, and stimulating entrepreneurial approaches to problemsolving.

In June of '81, I asked Bill Baroody, president of the American Enterprise Institute, to study how private institutions can help individuals in need. Later that summer, we created the new White House office, Office of Private Sector Initiatives, to coordinate our efforts. And 1 year ago, your Task Force was formed.

I don't have to mention all of your accomplishments, but I can't resist bragging about a few. Bill has already told you about them, but there are some others who are listening in now that I think should know.

For example, because of you, yes, more than 70 television stations across America have broadcast stories about private sector solutions to community problems. And many of their communities turned those ideas into action. This year, more than 40 governments -- 42, actually -- pledged their support for private sector initiatives. More than 550 national organizations have responded to your call for help and to help individuals and communities work together. You've involved fraternal and service organizations and religious, business, and professional groups.

With your encouragement, new opportunities for our people have sprung up around the country. A job-a-thon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for example, was the first of its kind; resulted in employment for 300 people. A job fair in Columbus, Ohio, was another tremendous success; produced nearly 500 jobs. And the Greater Houston Alliance of Business, through the cooperation of the Houston Task Force, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Texas Employment Commission, was able to place about 3,000 young people in summer jobs. Our Task Force has been active in many areas, from job-a-thons to help fairs, to supporting innovative high schools.

This year we presented the first annual President's Volunteer Action Awards, and earlier this year Bill Verity showed me and members of the Cabinet your data bank, as he has told you -- 2,500 examples of private sector initiatives across the country and all with names and phone numbers of people who have willingly permitted themselves to be put in that job bank so that anyone in the country can call in and find out about these programs and be put directly in touch with the people that are making programs operate in their communities.

I understand, Bill, that you're working with several groups to keep the bank going after today. I know it'll continue to be a valuable resource.

I'm looking forward to reading the committee chairmen's report and reviewing the other studies the Task Force worked so hard to put together, especially those books there on reinvesting in America, corporate responsibility, and volunteering.

You have all set the stage for the rebirth of creative approaches to meeting human needs. As we end this survey phase of our effort and enter the new period of activism, it's important to recognize the themes that have developed in your work.

The first is that private initiative means more than private money -- much more. It means leadership to channel our diverse community resources to solve our most pressing problems.

Second is the need to develop a new state of mind, to look first not to what government can do to help, but to what we can do as individuals or private organizations to make our neighborhoods and communities better places to live.

Third, government has the responsibility to ensure that basic human needs of all our citizens are met and to guarantee their rights. But each of us must recognize our individual responsibility to lift our country and our people to even higher standards of living, happiness, and fulfillment.

Now we must capitalize on what you have started. I know the Task Force is recommending that we continue involving the public sector at the highest levels. I promise you, this Task Force may be going out of business, but the PSI's are here to stay in this administration.

I hope to announce shortly after the first of the year a new working group of Cabinet members and private individuals, as Bill has suggested, who will carry on your efforts. We will expand our emphasis on private sector until it reaches into every office and department in this administration. I've already directed members of the Cabinet to put encouragement of the private sector in as one of the top things on their agenda. And today I charge each of you to keep telling the exciting story of what Americans can and are doing all over our country to help their neighbors and themselves.

It was once written that America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. I have no fear that the character and generosity of our people will erode. But I am concerned that we don't draw from that deep well of compassion and goodness nearly enough. Together, we can bring back the recognition voluntary action, private initiative, once enjoyed. We will remind the American people of how good and how great they really are. And in so doing, we will ensure our inner strength for generations to come.

Other people in the world know how great and good we are. I've told, at times, of how, at the end of World War II, when the world almost seemed to be entering a Dark Ages, Pope Pius XII said that ``The American people have a genius for great and generous deeds.'' And he said, ``Into the hands of Americans, God has placed an afflicted mankind.''

Now, I understand I have an opportunity to thank each of you personally for your work. And we're going to have our pictures taken over here in a kind of receiving line. And I'm looking forward to that. But before we do, however, I have a presentation to make to Bill Verity.

Bill, over the past 13 months, you and the Task Force members have been keeping the rubber on the road and -- well, let's just say you've really been on a roll for the PSI. Even when the critics were telling you that you were full of hot air, you didn't let the pressure get to you. So, Bill -- first of all, 13 is not an unlucky number anymore. And for all your tireless efforts, you really deserve something -- an award to gage the progress and measure the momentum of the PSI. So, I thought it would be appropriate to give this PSI gage -- [laughter] -- to measure your future accomplishments.

You will note that the gage is set at 13, representing the number of months this Task Force has existed. I know it's not going to stop there. So, thank you for everything. And there's your tire gage, gold-plated.

There is no way to thank you all enough. And I have to say this -- it is a day of mixed emotions. I feel a sadness here that the Task Force is -- you won't go too far, will you? [Laughter] I mean, you'll be within calling distance if we need you. And I'm sure we will.

But that film -- everyone has to see that to see those children volunteers, coming into the loneliness of old age, their hands on the shoulder and the back of those older people -- and how both were gaining from that.

I've just got to tell one little story. I have been sent a letter which, one of these days, I am going to see is delivered to the American people. It happens to be from one of our young sailors on a carrier out in the Pacific, and just recently, they came upon a sinking boat of Vietnamese refugees, and they brought them on shore. And this letter is from the boy to his mother and father telling about that day.

And he said, ``It was awful hard to talk when you had a lump between your chin and your belly button.'' And he then went on about this and about all of them on there. But what he ended with was so articulate and so inspiring -- a boy talking to his mother and father after this adventure and then how he said to them, ``I hope this will always be true of our country. I hope that we will always be the place where anyone from any place in the world who is in need and in trouble can come to our country, and we'll find room for them no matter how many they may be.''

And I won't say any more about it, because, as I say, that letter -- I'm going to see that the people here -- and having been an actor with lines like that, I'm not going to give them to anybody else. [Laughter] I'd better read them.

But I'm going over here now and meet all of you individually, and God bless all of you and thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in the Grand Foyer of the White House.