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

June 2, 1986

It's an honor for Nancy and me to welcome you to the White House. And at this point, it's my job to say a few words about voluntarism. Now, imagine that -- [laughter] -- talking to this audience about voluntarism. It makes me think of a gentleman who, in his later life, was the only living survivor of the Johnstown flood. And when his time came to meet his maker, he went to heaven. But in his later years -- he had been on the mashed-potato circuit, quite busily in demand as a speaker and lecturer to tell about these experiences with the flood. St. Peter said to him, ``You know, when newcomers are up here, there are a lot of people that would like to hear about things that have been happening down below and since their departure, and do you have'' -- ``Oh,'' he said, ``Yes.'' And he told him about his experience and, yes, he'd be very happy to speak. So, they gathered them. And St. Peter brought him over there, introduced him very graciously, and then, as he stepped back from the podium and the gentleman -- the newcomer stepped up -- he whispered to him, ``That man in the aisle seat, second row, is named Noah.'' [Laughter]

Well, I may not be able to tell you much about voluntarism that you don't already know, but it's appropriate for us to gather today in a spirit of celebration and reflect upon the goodness of the American people and their willingness to give each other a helping hand. The spirit of voluntarism is deeply ingrained in us as a nation. Indeed, when asked by pollsters, most Americans state their belief that no matter how big government gets and no matter how many services it provides, it can never take the place of volunteers. In other words, the American people understand that there are no substitutes for gifts of service given from the heart.

In the past few years, moreover, we've witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of the volunteer spirit -- a reassertion of good will and neighborliness. Last year alone, individuals, corporations, bequests, and foundations gave nearly $80 billion to good causes; and that is an all-time record high in our country. Now, according to polls -- and I know this includes people in this room -- some 92 million Americans, more than a third of our entire population, perform volunteer work year-in and year-out. And I just have to believe that we're entitled to feel pretty good about that.

You can see these volunteer efforts, these private sector initiatives, all around. Hands Across America last week represented a dramatic, national effort to help the poor and homeless who live in our midst. Just Say No is a largely volunteer organization teaching children around the world to say no to drugs. And a week and a half ago Nancy hosted a Just Say No rally here at the White House. It was one of those small affairs that she likes so much -- [laughter] -- there couldn't have been more than 2,300 kids here. [Laughter] But although Just Say No requires school officials, teachers, and especially parents to give up a great deal of their time, Nancy told me that everyone that she spoke to at the rally was convinced that it was not only worth it but of vital importance for the future.

Then there are the volunteer efforts in which each of you is involved. You're champion givers, all of you, people of heart and selflessness, examples for the entire Nation. I don't want to -- you know, just looking at that note there, I've been scared to death until I finally got it out -- how easy it would have been to just glance down and then say ``selfishness'' instead of ``selflessness.''

But I don't want to go into what each of you has done before we present the awards, but I am, if you don't mind, eager to say a word to Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Laake. The Laakes operate an American Red Cross mobile administrative supply unit. It's an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Last year they spent 126 days away from home assisting with disaster relief. And I had to tell that. I just can't resist, because I just want to say, ``Keep on truckin'.'' [Laughter]

But all of you have our deepest thanks and admiration. I can think of nothing finer to say about our country than that it has produced men and women like you -- true heroes of the heart. God bless you.

And now, if Governor Romney and Donna Alvarado -- she is Director of ACTION, and he is chairman of the board of VOLUNTEER -- and if they will come up here and assist my roommate and me in handing out the medals. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:11 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. The 1986 award recipients included the Oregon Shakespearean Festival Association, Ashland, OR; the Boys Choir of Harlem, New York, NY; Carol Sasaki, Pullman, WA; Kimi Gray, Washington, DC; Raymond J. Moore, Tampa, FL; Jerome H. Stone, Chicago, IL; Operation Santa Claus, Sacramento, CA; Anthony Barracca, Apopka, FL; Gloria Allred, Los Angeles, CA; Heifer Project International, Little Rock, AR; Aid Association for Lutherans, Appleton, WI; The Volunteer Connection, Dallas, TX; L.I.A.I.S.O.N., Inc., New Hyde Park, NY; Gilbert and Madeline Laake, Bellevue, KY; Louis Leeder, Brooklyn, NY; National Association of Letter Carriers, Washington, DC; the Mutual Benefit Companies, Kansas City, MO; Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of West Virginia, Charleston, WV; and Security Pacific National Bank, Los Angeles, CA.