Remarks to Representatives of Volunteer Youth Groups

 

April 18, 1988

 

The President. Thank you all very much. It's a pleasure to welcome all of you here to the White House for the kickoff to National Volunteer Week. I know we're across the street from it, but they still consider this part of the White House.

 

Volunteering to help your neighbor is an old American tradition -- and among our most distinctive traditions. From the time of our founding to the present, it's one of the things that foreign visitors most often note when they come to visit this country. You may know of one foreign visitor, a Frenchman -- maybe you've heard of him -- called Alexis de Tocqueville. He toured the United States in the early 19th century. He wanted to find out how we did and what we were doing. And then he returned home and wrote about what he had seen here. And one thing he said was this: ``I have often seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare. They hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.'' And in thinking why this was, he concluded that, in his words, ``The free institutions which the inhabitants of the United States possess and the political rights of which they make so much use remind every citizen that it is the duty as well as the interest of people to make themselves useful to their fellow creatures.''

 

Well, yes, as de Tocqueville saw so clearly, voluntarism -- and what some of us call private sector initiatives -- go hand in hand with freedom. I like to think that helps explain why in the last 8 years Americans have been volunteering more than ever. In these years when we've pulled back the hand of government and increased personal freedom, we have also seen a revolution of compassion sweep our land. Charitable giving has soared by 77 percent, and more Americans than ever before are volunteering their time to help their community and those in need. The figure for just 1 year, last year, as it was given to me, was that $84 billion was raised in the United States just by various groups like your own, for doing worthwhile things in this country.

 

You can see this revolution of compassion, of course, at work in such longstanding national organizations as the Red Cross and Project Hope and, here in the Government, the Peace Corps. But even more, you can see it where the cameras and microphones too often fail to turn -- in hometowns and neighborhoods, churches, and synagogues. You can see it in Huntsville, Alabama, where the United Way brought together young volunteers from all over the city to write and record a rap against drug and alcohol abuse. It's a rhyming, rhythmic production that the group has performed all over town and on television. And it's getting out, as never before, in Huntsville a message that every young person, and every American for that matter, should hear: When it comes to drug and alcohol abuse, just say no!

 

But the revolution of compassion is, most of all, a person-to-person revolution. It's Kevin Gounaud, 15, of Springfield, Virginia, who heard about the need for a drive to raise food for the needy. Kevin pulled together 40 of his friends, and together they knocked on 3,000 doors and collected 500 bags of food for those who don't have enough. The revolution of compassion is Pamela Dawley, 17, of Hanover Park, Illinois. Several years ago, through her Girl Scout troop, Pamela organized a drive to collect books to send to needy young people in Mexico. After the 1986 earthquake, Pamela organized an event that raised $1,400 to help the people who had lived in a Mexico City housing project that the quake destroyed. The revolution of compassion is Mike Evans, 16, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mike gets around in a wheelchair, and that just seems to mean that he gets around faster than the rest of us. This year, on top of his schoolwork, Mike has volunteered more than 200 hours in everything from tutoring elementary school students to doing data entry for a local community organization that helps handicapped adults. And, yes, the revolution is Andrea Adams, 17, of Kokomo, Indiana. Andrea, who has done so much -- it's hard to know what to mention. But after helping start a United Way project to help students at her high school, she met, through the project, another girl whose parents had abused her and thrown her out of her home. The girl was sleeping on the streets and attending school during the day. Andrea, with the support of her parents, invited the girl to come and live with Andrea's family. And today, thanks to Andrea, Andrea's family, and her own determination, that young lady has a high school diploma.

 

You know, when I hear stories like those of Andrea and all of you, I can't help thinking that the people who talk about ours being a decade of greed ought to be ashamed of themselves. They have so misheard the voices of American compassion and the voices of America singing that it reminds me of a story about an old friend of mine who understood what the American spirit is all about, but who occasionally misheard things himself. His name was John Wayne. We called him, in Hollywood, Duke. Well, one day the Duke was on the set, filming a scene, and he'd just delivered a big and important line when the director shouted ``cut,'' and came up to him, and he said, ``Duke, you've got to deliver that line with a little more awe.'' Well, sure enough, on the next take, the Duke looked up, opened his mouth, and began the line saying, ``Aw.'' [Laughter]

 

When I want to hear what our great nation is all about, I listen not to the cynics but to people like you. This year Americans are joining together to expand voluntarism beyond anything we've ever seen before. It's called Give 5, and it means why don't we all take it upon ourselves to give 5 hours a week and/or 5 percent of our income to charitable causes and worthy goals.

 

Not only is voluntarism national, it's becoming international. In just 2 weeks, in London, American and British business and community leaders will gather to discuss voluntarism and charitable giving at the first British-American Conference on Private Sector Initiatives. One important topic they will take up will be inspiring the spirit of community service in the leaders of tomorrow. I wish that those attending this conference could meet each of you, because you embody that great spirit. Albert Einstein once said, ``It's every man's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.'' And that's what the great American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor is all about. And that's what each of you is doing.

 

You know, I receive so many letters about things that are going on, and I just received this morning a memorandum from within the White House staff there. And I thought I would bring it along, since it came just before I came over here. On Saturday, 29 White House staff members and friends participated in a special preview project for Christmas in April, the annual program to repair the homes of the poor, the elderly, and the handicapped. Now, that started as a local thing in a town in Texas, where in April, all year long, the people go around finding homes of the elderly or the aged -- or, I mean, of the poor or the handicapped, that need work -- shingling of roof, painting, plumbing repairs, and so forth. And then, in April volunteers from all over the city come forth, and they go to these homes and do all of this work. They're amateurs at it, but they're pretty handy also at it. I didn't know until I came to Washington that that had already spread from people hearing it in other communities and has spread here to Washington. So, we decided the White House should get involved, too. Skilled and unskilled volunteers spent that day, just this last Saturday, plastering, painting, and doing carpentry at the home of an elderly widow in Northwest Washington.

 

And additionally, Paolo Biscioni, an organizer of the upcoming British-American Conference on Private Sector Initiatives, came from London, England, and participated in that effort, and he's here this morning. I just ran into him a little while ago in the Oval Office. On April 30th -- that's the real Christmas in April day -- another White House team of volunteers will join 2,500 other workers in the citywide Christmas in April project to repair 83 other homes. I thought that maybe you'd like to hear that little item in connection with all that you are doing.

 

Well, I thank you for it, and a great many other people thank you for all that you're doing. And God bless all of you. Thank you. I understand I'm just supposed to stand aside here for a moment, as something's going to happen.

 

Ms. Cobb. Thank you, Mr. President, for recognizing the accomplishments of the youth volunteers. I am Kendalle Cobb, a youth volunteer with the United Way. Greetings from California! [Laughter] There are many volunteer youth groups represented here today, and we are all thrilled to be here with you, one of the country's greatest volunteers.

 

To me, there are many wonderful things about volunteering, but one of the greatest is that volunteering always makes me feel that I can make a difference. Though many of us are still in high school, our effort can improve the quality of life of others and in so doing can better the world. Thank you for inspiring us and again reminding us that our future lies in helping one another. I agree with you, Mr. President, there is a revolution of compassion sweeping this country, and the youth of today will carry this revolution through the 21st century.

 

Now, on behalf of all youth volunteers across the country, I would like to present to you a Young America Cares T-shirt. We hope that you will treasure it, because when you care, you're among the very young at heart. Thank you.

 

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you all very much. God bless you. And you know something, I have a feeling that the 21st century, when another generation -- yours -- replaces all of us, things are going to be just fine not only in America but in the world. Thank you all very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:06 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.