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

 

June 10, 1988

 

The President. Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. It's my honor to be here today to award the 1988 President's Volunteer Action Awards. When we came to Washington 7 years ago, one of our goals was to restore the promise of hope upon which our great nation was founded, to once again have communities where neighbor helps neighbor and the spirit of caring is put into action by ordinary citizens.

 

In 1982 we presented the first Volunteer Action Awards to recognize and honor those citizens who had dedicated themselves to these ideals. Since then, thousands and thousands of applications have been received telling of Americans who give generously of themselves to aid their fellow man. Each is worthy of recognition, but you, the winners of the Volunteer Action Awards, are unique. Through your lives and the principles that you uphold, you set an example, not just for your communities but the Nation and the world. You've made the words ``I can't'' obsolete and have brought hope that doesn't disappoint to those in need. To many of you, service to your fellow man is not just part of your life but has become your life's work.

 

As the wife of an Army colonel stationed in Korea, Harriet Hodges was just trying to help one family in 1972, when she arranged for their child to be flown to the United States for lifesaving heart surgery. But when other mothers with their little ones gathered at her door for help, she responded, and one by one, Harriet Hodges has arranged, without cost to their families, for 2,000 Korean children to have the surgery they need in the United States.

 

In Dallas, Texas, Margaret Gallimore seeks out those in need -- the worst need -- those dying with nowhere to go. Last spring, Margaret opened her home to victims of AIDS. With only the help of her children, Pamela, Phillip, Willie, and a friend, Margaret, a registered nurse, bathes and cooks and takes care of 20 people.

 

At 91 most of us would be content to retire, but Arnolta Williams, or ``Mama'' Williams, as she is known in Jacksonville, Florida, just keeps going. Following a routine she established almost 70 years ago, she's up every day volunteering. During her life she's raised the funds and gathered the support to build a nursery for the children of low-income mothers, acted as a community leader to bring harmony during the racial turmoil of the 1960's, and served on the board of countless nonprofit organizations. In fact, ``Mama'' Williams has done so much during her lifetime to help others it would be impossible to mention every project now, but I think it's sufficient to say that, if you think about it, you know that she isn't called ``Mama'' without reason. And I like another thing about her, too. She did a little personal job on me. [Laughter] She's made me -- she talked me into feeling young again. [Laughter]

 

And it makes me proud as I look around the room to see the familiar faces of my friends from the entertainment industry like Martha Lyles, who works with SHARE, another of today's award recipients.

 

President Eisenhower said: ``There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence, and energy of her citizens cannot cure.'' It's this optimism put into action through our private sector initiatives that differentiates America from much of the world. The 18 Americans that we honor today demonstrate that spirit. I think that each of you would be interested to know that the banner of hope that you wave is being recognized around the world. Recently, his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, and Prime Minister Thatcher addressed a conference of American and British business leaders gathered to discuss what they could do to increase private sector initiatives internationally.

 

Today's the last time that I will bestow these prestigious awards, so before I close, I'd like to recognize two gentlemen who have dedicated themselves to promoting voluntarism in our country, Governor George Romney and W. Clement Stone. W. Clement Stone, born into poverty in Chicago at the turn of the century, rose from his humble beginnings to become one of our country's greatest businessmen and philanthropists. In addition to giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to needy causes, Clem has demonstrated through his personal service and leadership the formula for success in America. He's done a magnificent job as chairman of the ACTION Advisory Board. Governor Romney, the founder of American Motors Company and former Governor of Michigan, has spent a lifetime in service to his fellow man -- stopping not even at retirement. In 1973 he helped form what we now know as VOLUNTEER: The National Center [for Citizen Involvement]. Through his efforts, volunteer centers across the country have helped assist those who wish to volunteer their time.

 

Governor, and Clem, thank you.

 

And now if Donna Alvarado, our Director of ACTION, and Governor Romney will step forward, we'll present the Volunteer Action Awards.

 

Ms. Alvarado. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, in response to the call you issued to the American people from the beginning of your administration to reach out and assist their neighbors and according to the inspiring example of volunteer service to the Nation that has been set by that extraordinary lady who is ever at your side, I am pleased to introduce to you the 18 outstanding volunteers you have selected to receive the 1988 President's Volunteer Action Awards.

 

First, the Red River Revel Arts Festival involves over 3,000 volunteers in the 8-day festival, which provides a variety of arts experiences for more than 300,000 people who attend annually. Accepting for Red River Revel is James Montgomery, president.

 

Zachary Fisher has been the leading force in the development of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum located on the U.S.S. Intrepid, and of the Veterans Bedside Network. He formed the Elizabeth and Zachary Fisher Armed Forces Charitable Foundation to provide scholarship assistance to members of the armed services and their families. Zachary Fisher.

 

Verlyn and Martha Roskam founded Educational Assistance Unlimited, a unique barter program which matches goods contributed by corporations with colleges which need the items with the cash value of the contributions given as scholarships by the colleges in the name of the companies. Accepting for Verlyn and Martha Roskam is their son, Peter Roskam.

 

Thomas W. Evans founded the Mentor Program, which matches high school students with law firms to teach them the workings of the law and has led in the development of the National Symposium on Partnerships in Education. Thomas W. Evans.

 

Kaye Kiker was instrumental in the formation of Alabamians for a Clean Environment and has been the leader in educating local residents about the impact of the Nation's largest toxic-waste landfill located in their county. Kaye Kiker.

 

Mission Air Ministries, founded in 1981, provides no-cost air transportation to hospitals and medical centers for over 200 patients each year. Mission Air pilots and medical personnel are among the more than 400 volunteers involved in this program. Accepting for Mission Air is Donald Simpson, founder.

 

Margaret Gallimore, who has worked in nursing for 24 years, has housed over 20 people with AIDS in the house adjacent to her own home, providing meals, care, and support and serving as their adopted family. The home is the only facility for nonambulatory people with AIDS in the Dallas area. Margaret Gallimore.

 

Mrs. Arnolta ``Mama'' Williams has been a volunteer leader in her community of Jacksonville, Florida since 1920. She was a founder and president of Gateway Nursery and Kindergarten for underprivileged children and is the chairperson of the Jacksonville Foster Grandparent Program. At age 91, ``Mama'' Williams shows the dynamic role of seniors in community service. ``Mama'' Williams.

 

SHARE Incorporated, an organization of 100 women from the entertainment industry, annually raises over $1 million through special events to provide grants to 28 organizations that serve mentally disabled and abused children. Accepting the award is Miriam Nelson Meyers, one of SHARE's founders.

 

Robert Mosbacher, Jr., was instrumental in the development of the InfoNet Task Force, which provides referral and information services to the unemployed in the Houston, Texas, area, and the After School Partnership, which assists latchkey children at 14 sites. Rob Mosbacher.

 

Harriet Hodges, who resides with her husband in Seoul, Korea, has developed a network of 15 hospitals across the United States that has provided lifesaving heart surgery for over 2,000 needy Korean youngsters in the past 15 years. Mrs. Hodges is known as the Korean heart lady. Harriet Hodges.

 

Dr. Luis Gomez has been providing no-cost medical care to more than 50 people with leprosy in Juarez, Mexico, since 1980 and founded the Father Damien Fund to help purchase medicine and equipment for the work. Dr. Luis Gomez.

 

The 1987 International Summer Special Olympics Committee involved over 23,000 volunteers in the games held in South Bend, Indiana, during which 5,000 mentally disabled athletes from all 50 States and 50 foreign countries participated in 14 Olympic style sports. Accepting the award is the Special Olympics Committee president and chairman, Ervin Derda.

 

Roberta R. Roper founded the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation in memory of her daughter, in order to develop and guarantee victims' rights in the court system and to provide assistance to crime victims and their families. Roberta Roper.

 

Operation Comeback is sponsored by Valencia Community College to involve college students as counselors for court-referred young people who participate in community service projects as a way of providing positive experiences and building self-esteem. Accepting is Dr. William Prentiss, founder of Operation Comeback.

 

First Bank System, Community First Program of Minneapolis involves over 2,000 employee volunteers in 23 community service programs which have provided nearly 600,000 hours of volunteer service in 1987. Accepting for the Community First Program is D.H. Ankeny, chairman and CEO of First Bank System.

 

Time, Incorporated, Time to Read Program involves over 500 employee volunteers who tutored more than 600 functionally illiterate adults and young people in reading at 20 sites in 1987, using specially designed curriculum and popular reading material published by Time, Incorporated. Accepting for Time to Read is Donald M. Wilson, corporate vice president.

 

And finally, the Barberton Free Clinic was developed by the Council of Labor to provide free medical assistance to unemployed residents of the Ohio community, which has a 33-percent unemployment rate. Accepting the award is Charles Lemmon, president of the Barberton Council of Labor.

 

And now, Mr. President, we have a special addition to the program, which may come as a bit of a surprise to you. For the past 6 years, Presidential Volunteer Action Awards have been conferred at ceremonies here in the East Room of the White House. This program was created by you to recognize and reward the best in America -- our volunteer spirit. And as a result of the executive order which you signed, this will become a permanent Presidential program. For years to come, outstanding volunteers from across this country will receive the personal thanks from future Presidents of the United States.

 

Well, Mr. President, the volunteer community of this country would like to do some thanking of its own. To represent the millions of volunteers across this country, we have asked Mr. Bobby Trimble to join us today. Bobby was recognized at the very first President's Volunteer Action Awards Luncheon for a program he created called Christmas in April. It did not have much national recognition back then in 1982, but through your assistance, it has spread all across America. Through Christmas in April programs across the Nation, thousands of volunteers work each year to rebuild homes and indeed lives of those who are in need. Now, may I ask Bobby Trimble to please come forward.

 

Mr. Trimble. As you can tell, I'm a little bit nervous. [Laughter] What an honor. It feels good. I'm president of the Christmas in April program in Midland, Texas, which has been going on for 16 years, and from this humble beginning 16 years ago, has spread out to a number of other cities in the United States. We did not grow very much until after the 1982 awards, which I was very fortunate to receive this from Mrs. Reagan. She was volunteering also that day for her husband because he was out of town. [Laughter] And so I appreciated that very much.

 

Let me give you just a little bit -- so many people say, well, what is Christmas in April? So, I always like to explain just a little bit in a short, short way. We take volunteers from all walks of life, buy the materials for them, and let them overhaul an old, beat-up house. And it's amazing what volunteers who've had no experience of being a carpenter or a roofer or a plumber or a painter -- to see what they can do to an old house. But then you get the question: ``I have no skills.'' So, the first thing you do -- put them on the trash details. [Laughter] The next year, I guarantee you, that person will have a skill when they came back to work. [Laughter] So, if that -- try that in your community when somebody tells you they have no skills.

 

So -- but Mr. President, so like so many successful volunteer programs in this country, Christmas in April began as an idea of what one town could do for its neighbors in need. Today it has spread across the country; new programs are beginning each year. I believe Christmas in April has spread because of the recognition Mrs. Reagan gave me 6 years ago when I received their Volunteer Action Award. As a result, a lot more people heard about our program and wanted to find out how to get it started in their community. But Mr. President, what you have done goes far beyond simply presenting awards to volunteer programs. Your leadership has helped to renew an old American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor. You have inspired the Nation to reach for the best in itself, and to devote its energies to making our communities, our nation, and the world a better place. Under your Presidency, voluntarism and charitable giving in our country have reached an all-time high. And it hasn't stopped here. In the past few years, we have seen a tremendous interest by other countries who have observed what has happened in America, then duplicated it beyond our shores. Over the past 5, 6, 7 years, I have had requests of how to get a Christmas neighbor program started from all over the United States, Canada, and as far away as Israel. So, you can see what good publicity does.

 

Mr. President, today I've a special honor. On behalf of millions of volunteers in America, I want to say thank you for what you have done, to recognize your leadership and to inspire future generations of Americans to meet the standards you have established. We, the volunteers of America, have created a new award. This award will be presented each year, by all future Presidents of the United States, to the individual that symbolizes the very best of voluntarism in our country. And Mr. President, this new medal will be called ``The Ronald Reagan Award for Volunteer Excellence.''

 

And now, I would like to present you with the first strike of the Ronald Reagan Award for Volunteer Excellence. And in future years, the recipient of this award will be selected personally by the President of the United States. But this year, to keep this a surprise, you were not able to make the personal decision. [Laughter] However, the leaders of VOLUNTEER, the National Center, the ACTION Advisory Commission, and your Private Sector Initiatives Board of Advisors have picked the person they feel represents the type of volunteer spirit you have encouraged.

 

Mr. President, I would ask you to announce the first recipient of the Ronald Reagan Award for Volunteer Excellence. [Laughter]

 

The President. Well, I couldn't be more proud. The winner of the Ronald Reagan Award for Volunteer Excellence goes to ``Mama'' Williams. Well, I -- yes, I was surprised. I am very much surprised. But also --  --

 

Ms. Williams. Great-great-grandmother's surprised too. [Laughter]

 

The President. And very proud. And proud of all of you and grateful to all of you. I'd like to just stay here and talk to you all afternoon, but Nancy tells me that I've got to help her with the dishes. [Laughter]

 

Ms. Williams. Don't you make another joke like that. [Laughter]

 

Mrs. Reagan. That's right! [Laughter]

 

Mrs. Reagan. Did you hear what she said?

 

The President. No. What?

 

Ms. Williams. Don't make another joke like that. [Laughter]

 

The President. ``Mama'' -- well, ``Mama'' Williams, that may not be as much of a joke as you think. Because -- [laughter] -- one of the better jobs I had in my entire life, working my way through Eureka College, was washing dishes in the girls dormitory. [Laughter]

 

Ms. Williams. That was before you were married. [Laughter]

 

The President. Yes. [Laughter] Well, again, God bless you all. Thank you all for what you've done. And this is -- and as you've heard here today and those that have spoken already -- all of this is going around the world, too, because there have been meetings abroad. And as a matter of fact, at the economic summit a year ago in Venice, Italy, between meetings, I was invited to a house and found myself looking at some Americans who were there, and who were helping Italy with their implementation of a private enterprise program of their own, so that they could do things as you do, without waiting to see if government's going to do them first. And this is spreading all over the world, and it all started right here under that grand old flag.

 

So, God bless all of you, and thank you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.