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

June 28, 1983

First of all, thank you all for being here. I'm very pleased to welcome to the White House the members of the new Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiatives -- the members of the Cabinet who'll be serving on the Council; Bob Galvin, our new Chairman; Vice Chairman Gloria Toote; Bill Verity, who chaired our earlier Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives; and -- you can see that I have also thought of your moral welfare -- the appointment of Cardinal Krol to this group. [Laughter]

I haven't seen so much talent gathered together here at the White House since the Beach Boys were here. [Laughter] But I'll tell you, we're here today to talk about a popular revolution that is going to rival rock and roll when we all look back on it.

Private sector initiatives are as basic as the American traditions of neighbor helping neighbor, as selfless as are millions of volunteers and as simple as a helping hand. But these private actions are part of a national movement that is sweeping across the country like a prairie fire. The American people have developed a new way of thinking about how to solve social and economic problems.

Maybe I should say they have rediscovered an old way. We sort of got weaned away from what used to be traditional Americanism by government saying, ``We'll do it.'' And the people have found out again about what they used to do.

I had a letter from a man one day, very discouraged, a businessman, business troubles and all, and it wasn't too long ago. And I wrote him a three-page letter that I hoped was the kind of talk Rockne gave Notre Dame -- [laughter] -- about ``win one for the Gipper.'' But he was saying -- it finally ended up with this tragic line to me: ``If I knew of a country anyplace in the world that was like America was a hundred years ago, I'd go there.'' And I tried to tell him about people like yourselves and that we're going to be like we were a hundred years ago.

Today you can go to about any community and discover private individuals that are creatively solving public problems. I wish you could have been to all the places that I've already been and seen the remarkable public-spirited things that I've already witnessed. And I also hear countless stories of people whom I'll never be able to meet who have taken the initiative to find private solutions to public problems. I could give you examples all afternoon of the efforts that are already being made.

In Harris County, Texas, Dr. Joel Reed and the Harris County Medical Society have developed a system whereby computers schedule indigent families into time slots that doctors donate.

The McDonald's Corporation, already known for its Ronald McDonald Houses, has now launched a major child safety belt campaign in cooperation with the National Safety Council. And I hope they're just as successful with the safety program as they are with the hamburgers.

In New York the Private Industry Council and American Express have found a new way to put homebound handicapped people to work. American Express has given word-processing equipment to handicapped employees who are now able to work in their homes. A whole new market of productive workers has been opened up.

Again, I refer to some of those letters I get, and they range across the spectrum -- age-wise, occupation-wise, everything else. I have a letter on my desk that a little girl in fifth grade wrote. And it must be a good school like yours, Paul, because it's very well written and correctly punctuated and not a word misspelled. But with the letter came $187 that this fifth grade class had raised and sent in to be applied to the national debt. When I was in fifth grade, I'm not sure that I knew what a national debt was. [Laughter] Of course, when I was in fifth grade, we didn't have one. [Laughter]

There are examples of food banks and job-a-thons and elderly care and any number of good causes. And everywhere I travel, people are forming new coalitions to explore ways for their communities to meet child care needs, help displaced workers find new jobs, and address important community problems like drug and alcohol abuse. Everywhere you look people are developing creative solutions to our local needs.

And here, because it's such an important issue, let me mention there are many, many ways the private sector could help the Nation out on its educational problems.

Throughout the country, businesses are adopting schools and new educational partnerships are forming. Private citizens and parents are getting involved in schools, and I hope that you'll take a special look at what we can do here.

Neighbor helping neighbor is an American tradition, but let me tell you something: The secret's getting out. Not long ago I was down in Williamsburg -- you may have read about it; it was in all the papers. And I just learned that at the Williamsburg summit the Japanese heard about our private sector initiatives. They've asked for information, and they're studying its possibilities. And if the Japanese are interested, we must really be on to something. [Laughter]

As members of the new Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiatives, I'm asking you to contribute your energy to a national movement that's already energized. All over the country people are finding new solutions for the problems they see in their communities, but they can use your help too. We want to activate even more of that energy in our people. We need your help in multiplying the applications of all the good private sector ideas and projects that abound in the country.

We want the individual or company who seeks to do something about displaced workers, for example, to know there are successful programs that have worked in other communities. Bob Galvin and Jim Coyne have some proposals on how we can achieve all these ends.

We want the person with a good idea about how to help with social and economic problems to know that he or she can make a difference. We need each of you to help us find ways to build the networks, develop the partnerships, and find the resources to make seemingly small ideas become national solutions to broad problems. And this is a call to action. We need your help. The Nation needs your help to ensure that our communities, our volunteers, our service organizations and corporations are active participants in solving our critical problems.

I believe in what Americans are doing for other Americans, and I believe in what you, on this Council, can do. I have to mention when this idea came for a private initiative task force, to begin with, to find out what could be done -- I -- it's a wonderful thing. We've got some private initiative people that man the telephone switchboards in the White House. I picked up the phone and said, ``Get me Bill Verity.'' And when I got him, I got him in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, on a ship coming home from Europe. And I told him what I had in mind, and he didn't hesitate one second. And he was on board before he landed in America.

And the Task Force did find out -- and a great deal of their effort was in finding out what is going on throughout the country. And now we've found out. In all these various communities -- these things that are going on -- but the need is to just tell others that are looking for solutions to problems in their own country.

And I could tell you that -- Bill, I never told you this before, but one of the places where this idea first had its origin, where I'm concerned, was in California. There were letters that my people knew I wanted to see, letters from people who had exhausted all the bureaucratic answers, and somehow their problem did not lend itself to solution by government. And I wanted to see those. And so they were delivered to me. And I picked up the phone a few times, and I called several people throughout the State of California that I knew personally. And I told them about cases like this. And I said, ``If I gave you a call'' -- knowing they could afford it -- I said, ``about one of these things, would you be interested in helping someone like this?'' And to a man and woman they volunteered.

And so, I used to pick up the phone, and one of them was the case of an unemployed man. And he's now the manager of a chain of restaurants in California, because the ex-actor that was owner of those restaurants put him to work. And that's what it came to be.

There was another one -- I got a followup letter from a widow and her small son who -- the only kid in his class without a bicycle and so forth -- and trying to get along on welfare. And I called another fellow. And I got a call later on, and she said, ``The Santa Claus that personally came to my door and delivered the bicycle and many other things'' -- she said, ``I didn't recognize him.'' But she said, ``Later in one of the cartons, I found a sales slip made out to a Mr. Sinatra. Could it have been?'' And I wrote back and says, ``Yep, it was.''

But the idea lived with me until here and this original task force and, now, all of you. And I think you're going to get as much as you give out of what takes place throughout this country. You're going to find that America is off on a course that you, I think, will more have to fight them off than to rope them in to doing the things that have to be done.

And I just want to thank you all again from the bottom of my heart. And I know in this room are so many examples of people who have already been doing things like this. God bless you all.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.