Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the President's Volunteer Action Awards

May 7, 1984

Well, thank you very much for the applause, but, believe me, today it's the other way around. I'm here to applaud you. And this is a particularly fitting time to be holding this luncheon -- today is the first working day of National Volunteer Week, and we've just ended a National Year of Voluntarism.

Now, I want to begin by expressing my thanks here to some volunteers who've made this occasion possible. I'm talking, of course, about George Romney and Clem Stone. I remember from our days as Governor, how much interest George took in voluntarism, and fortunately for all of us, it's an interest that he's continued with up until this day. And what can you say about Clem Stone? If he doesn't qualify for most generous American, who can?

Now, there's one lady here today who isn't getting an award, but is someone who really ought to be mentioned. Her name is Edith Westerman. And she volunteers full-time and sometimes works a lot more than full-time in our private sector initiatives office here at the White House. And, Edie, from all of us, thanks for your help in today's event and throughout the year.

You know, there's a fair amount of paperwork in this job that I'm currently holding. Homework, too. You ought to see the stacks of stuff that I lug upstairs every night. It's a good thing that I go home from work in an elevator. [Laughter]

Some of it -- in fact, a lot of it -- is not exactly the sort of thing that would be your first choice for bedtime reading. But I want you to know that recently I've had a chance to do some reading that not only riveted my attention but filled my heart with pride. It's a feeling I know all Americans would share if they, too, had a chance to see what I see. I'm referring to the citations for the awards that you're receiving today and the descriptions of the incredible work that you've done through your organizations or as individuals to better the lot of others.

What magnificent stories there are to tell about each of you. You've run jobs in health programs; you've helped the unemployed and the handicapped; you held out a helping hand to those who are forgotten or shunned or can't help themselves -- drug addicts and prostitutes and convicts. You've started worldwide relief agencies and community colleges. You've run Vietnam veterans hiring programs and Indian culture schools. You've helped provide orthopedic shoes and braces for crippled children. You've donated clothes and school supplies for underprivileged children.

In fact, I can assure you that every time my staff and I thought we would single out a person or an organization for these citations, we came across somebody else who was just as worthy of mention. Each one of you has made a personal sacrifice to do the work that you did. None of you ever expected any rewards for what you did. Many times I'm sure there were doubts and lots of discouragement, and it took real courage to carry on.

We've had a lot of heroes at ceremonies here at the White House during the past few years -- our shuttle astronauts, for example, or our marines and rangers from the Grenada expedition. But, believe me, you stand as tall in your own way as any of them. What you've done is in the finest traditon of your country.

You know, it was that Frenchman, de Tocqueville, so often quoted by after-dinner speakers, who, when he came here in the 1830's, reflected in awe about American voluntarism. He said, ``These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world. You'll not believe me when I tell you how they behave. In a local community in their country, a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street, discusses it with his neighbor. And then what happens? A committee comes into existence. [Laughter] And the committee begins functioning in behalf of the need.'' And he went on to say that no bureaucrats were involved at all, just the people did it. [Laughter]

Well, each of you here today has demonstrated this unique American spirit of voluntarism, partnership, and innovation. In your own way, you're working to resolve issues in a more effective manner than we could do with large Federal programs. Personal dedication and commitment seem to be the underlying key to success in all of your efforts. And in the 3 years since we started these awards, we've seen an ever-increasing rise in people actively helping their neighbors.

So, I want to applaud you today and thank you on behalf of all your fellow Americans. Every one of us is grateful to you. As members of your families and communities and citizens of our country, you've been an inspiration and an example to us. But most of all, we're grateful for the people you've helped, for the people whose lives you've touched and whose burdens you've lifted because you cared enough to extend a helping hand and a warm heart.

And now, with the assistance of Tom Pauken of ACTION and George Romney, I'd like to have the pleasure of handing out your awards.

[At this point, Thomas W. Pauken, Director of ACTION, announced the award winners and read the citations accompanying the awards. Recipients included James F. ``Buck'' Burshears, LaJunta, CO; Nick Monreal, San Antonio, TX; Friends of Cooper Mountain College, Twentynine Palms, CA; Elizabeth Copper Terwilliger, Mill Valley, CA; Bill and Pat Barton, Naples, FL; Ray G. Villarreal, El Paso, TX; Corporate Angel Network, White Plains, NY; Children of the Night, Hollywood, CA; Americares Foundation, New Canaan, CT; Irene Auberlin, Detroit, MI; Delaware Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, Wilmington, DE; Chris Stout, Lynnwood, WA; Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, New Haven, CT; Volunteer for Minnesota, St. Paul, MN; Tom Rader, Dos Palos, CA; Glenn Williams, Seattle, WA; San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL - CIO, CA; Laid-Off Employees Assistance Program, Armco Corp., Middletown, OH; and Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco, CA. The President then resumed speaking.]

I was supposed to be through now, but I just have one word that I just can't help but say here. I asked a question once -- it wasn't original with me. It had first been asked by an admiral standing on the bridge of a carrier at the time of the Korean war when planes were taking off on a night mission. And as he watched them go, he asked, ``Where do we find such men?''

I asked the question after an evening some years ago while I was still in California when we had been in the company of the first of the returning POW's from Vietnam. And I said it to Nancy -- where did we find them? -- after hearing them all evening. And the answer came to me as quickly as I'd asked the question.

I have only repeated it or told this with regard to incidents of that kind, but believe me, it fits today. Where do we find such people as you? And the answer is just as it was with those others -- where we've always found them, the product of the freest, the most generous, the greatest social structure that has ever been devised by man. Just the product of Main Street and the farms and the cities and towns of America.

All of you, God bless you all for reaffirming what this country is all about. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.