Remarks at a Ceremony Honoring Youth Volunteers

April 25, 1985

The President. I want to tell all of you how much I've looked forward to having you here today -- please, sit down -- and saluting your efforts as youth volunteers.

Since our first days in office, encouraging the kind of volunteer work you do has been one of our highest priorities. Now, this doesn't stem from any pride of authorship. Believe me, nobody in this administration thinks that we invented voluntarism. From the foundation of our Republic to the taming of the frontier, right up to modern times and your wonderful work, voluntarism, the idea of neighbor helping neighbor, has been one of the distinguishing marks of the American experience and one of the primary causes of our nation's greatness.

I don't think many of us realize how very unique we are in this country. There aren't very many countries where it's done this way. I'm sure many of you've heard or read about the works of a Frenchman named de Tocqueville. He was very famous. He wrote remarkably accurate accounts of America back in the mid-1800's in a book called ``Democracy in America.'' He had come here especially from France to see what was the reason for this great miracle of the United States. And one of the things that truly astonished him was the extraordinary capacity that Americans have for identifying a social problem, forming a self-help group of a fraternal, religious, or charitable nature, and then pitching in to solve the problem. So, voluntarism was hardly our idea. It's always been a great American tradition.

But what motivated our efforts to revitalize voluntarism and stimulate private sector initiatives was the lack of emphasis put on it during much of the 1960's and 1970's. You see, back then the idea grew that government, rather than free people working in a free economy and society -- that government was somehow the principal engine of social progress. And this point of view was, of course, at great variance with the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, who understood the danger to liberty and creativity caused by intrusive government.

And sure enough, it wasn't long before the proliferation of bureaucracy began to suffocate that voluntary spirit which had always been a hallmark of the American people. Sometimes it seemed as though a social problem couldn't be addressed without a government grant, a roomful of highly paid consultants, and an office staff with lots of Ph.D.'s and impressive titles.

I remember when I was Governor back in California, we were one of the first to question this outlook. And at the time, we were helped by the publication of a remarkable book called ``Reclaiming the American Dream'' by Richard Cornell, a book that questioned the role of big government and showed how voluntarism could work in America. Well, we adopted many of its ideas in our California administration, and we're continuing them here in Washington today.

And I remember another experience from those California days that I think has meaning for all of you. It was one of those nights in the storm season, and down at Newport Beach, those homes, those beach homes all along the waterfront were being destroyed by an unusually high tide and the high waves that went with it. And they were hitting those homes. And they were crumbling and being washed away into the ocean.

TV was down there covering the rescue operation all night long. And I remember at 2 o'clock in the morning, I was still watching the efforts of the people who were loading sandbags -- picking up the sand from the beach into bags and trying to build sandbag parapets there to save the homes, to break the waves.

And I should mention to those of you who may not know, it gets cold at night in California, even in the summertime. Matter of fact, California is the only place in the world, I've often said, where you can fall asleep under a rosebush in full bloom and freeze to death. [Laughter]

Well, anyway, watching them -- there was one young fellow there, dripping wet, in swimming trunks. He had to be cold -- but back and forth, lugging those sandbags, building those parapets. And suddenly, one of the TV reporters grabbed him and asked him if he lived in one of those houses. And, no, he didn't live down at the beach at all. And finally, the question came: Well, then -- been working all night in just a pair of trunks, wet, cold, out there -- why? Why was he doing this? And the answer was so poignant. I think it will sound familiar to us. But I thought at the time, it ought to be put up on a billboard because he said: ``Well, I guess it's the first time any of us'' -- meaning young people -- ``had ever thought we were needed.''

Well, I'm here to say you are needed. And there's no limit to what you can do.

Perhaps many of you here saw the television special last night. It told another incredible story of what young Americans who feel needed are doing to help the less fortunate. The children of New York's public schools put their own private sector initiative together to help fight the tragic famine in Ethiopia. In a program called Children for Children, the students in every public school in New York worked together to raise money for food and supplies for the sick and the starving in Africa. These American children, many of whom were from the poorest areas of New York City, gave generously of their time and money to help other children in Africa. They raised over $150,000. And on Valentine's Day, an airplane loaded with grain and food supplies arrived in Africa to help save the lives of the sick and dying children in Ethiopia.

I think today it's fitting to salute this heroic act of generosity by the children of New York. They, just as all of you here today, show us why we should work hard to encourage voluntary action in America. We're particularly honored to have with us each of you who have gone out and done so much to recover this great American tradition.

All of you and thousands of your friends in nationwide organizations like the Scouts, 4 - H, Boys and Girls Clubs, Future Farmers of America, Future Homemakers of America, Camp Fire, and winners of the Congressional Medal -- Congressional Award, I should say -- all have made our country a much better place in which to live.

Others of you are involved in private sector initiatives like Crime Stoppers, who steer youngsters away from trouble and toward self-reliance; Junior Safety Officers, who teach younger children about ``stranger danger''; Friend-to-Friend Volunteers, who help handicapped youth; the Red Cross Clown Corps, who bring laughter and fun to those who need it so badly.

In the Touch America Project, over 10,000 young people helped to improve the public lands by blazing trails, stabilizing streams, and cleaning mudslide damage during the first year of operation. Pyramid Communications volunteers research, write, produce, and market their own radio and television programs.

And voluntarism is a terrific way to acquire new skills. Youth with the Anacostia Unlimited Skills Program learn technical skills and then go on to train their peers. Volunteers for Aunt Martha's Youth Services donate their time and talents in alcohol and drug prevention programs and as counselors in crisis intervention.

The Voluntary Action Center serves as a youth volunteer clearinghouse in Montgomery, Alabama, that recruits and places hundreds of youth volunteers in a variety of positions. The Student Volunteer Work Project in New York helps disadvantaged students learn marketable skills through the special work they do.

Hundreds of Magic Me volunteers brought great happiness to many elderly people in Baltimore last year. And Super Volunteers are springing up all over the country to spread the good news about how much fun it really is to get involved with people who need you.

Your pep and energy are astounding. How am I supposed to keep up with you? [Laughter] Someone once said that when you do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you'll command the attention of the world.

Well, today I have some young friends here with me who exemplify that sentiment, and at this time I would like to present each of you with a Presidential commendation for the outstanding work that you've done.

Monica Perez, of Washington, DC. This fourth grader from Nativity Catholic Elementary School conducts a summer school in her home for neighborhood children to teach them basic reading and writing skills.

Lucy Theodore, of Brooklyn, New York. Lucy, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, volunteers in her high school at a counseling center, on a local French language radio station, in a hospital in the patients' screening area, and tutors students in a local college. While on vacation with her family in Haiti, she did extensive volunteer work in the poor sections with doctors.

Jason Hardman, of Elsinore, Utah. Discovering that his rural hometown of Elsinore had no public library, 10-year-old Jason Hardman located a basement room at the town hall and stocked the shelves with over 1,000 books. For the last 5 years, Jason has continued to run the Elsinore library that now contains over 17,000 volumes.

Ann Tweedy, of Moorestown, New Jersey. During Christmas of 1983, Ann spearheaded a drive to write over 1,000 Christmas letters to the soldiers in Lebanon. Since then she has singlehandedly begun a toy drive for the Salvation Army and started school-based fundraising drives for the Statue of Liberty by collecting Kellogg cereal boxtops.

Petra Mastenbroek, of Seattle, Washington. After attending a Chemical People meeting in 1983, Petra organized a group called FOCUS -- Friends Offering Care, Understanding and Support. She has developed a number of programs that teach youth how to stand up and say no to drugs.

Mark Perry, of Little Rock, Arkansas. This 20-year-old has been doing volunteer work since he was 14. He has done considerable work with patients at the children's hospital in Arkansas, and he also conducts a job search program for young teens.

Trevor Ferrell, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Trevor's campaign began in December 1983, when after seeing a TV report, he started taking blankets to street people sleeping on steam vents in downtown Philadelphia. Since that time, hundreds of volunteers have rallied around Trevor to help distribute food and clothing and to refurbish a house for the street people, known as Trevor's Place.

Well, congratulations to all of you. As you leave us today and grow older in this world, may all your dreams come true. God Bless you all. And now I'm going to go down and see that you get those certificates.

Trevor Ferrell. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I'd like to thank everybody for all the help, and I'd like to thank Mr. President for the certificate. And I'm accepting it for all the volunteers who give and do, not because they're paid to do it.

And there's this one little paragraph I memorized:

``I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.''

Oh yes, I'd like to thank you for the Inaugural money that your fund gave to each of us.

The President. Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

[At this point, Mr. Ferrell presented the President with a plaque.]

And thank you all again. Nancy would be here to join me in saying her thanks, but she has 17 First Ladies from 17 other countries with her. And they're down in Atlanta on a youth drug program today. So, she couldn't be here.

God bless you all. Thank you all very much.

Reporter. Mr. President, Senator Dole says your visit to Bitburg will be less than appropriate, sir. Are you considering changing your plans?

The President. I'm just considering putting this on my desk.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.