Remarks in a Discussion on Community Service in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The President. Thank you all very much. Well, Chris, thank you very much. And thank you all for coming. I've been really looking forward to coming back to Philadelphia. After all, it was here that Benjamin Franklin set the stage for what it means to be a good volunteer. He started a university and started a library. He rallied people to help neighbors in need. So this is a good place to come and conduct a national dialog on the importance of people serving neighbors in need and the importance of people volunteering in their community.
And I want to thank Chris so very much for agreeing to be a moderator, but also thank you for your service to the Philadelphia community.
Sometimes when the President shows up, we get a pretty august crowd of elected officials here. I know the mayor is here somewhere. I want to thank the mayor for coming. Mr. Mayor, thank you for being here—oh, yes. Senator Specter, Senator Santorum, Congressmen Borski and Greenwood, Congressmen Weldon and Hoeffel, thank you all for coming. I know the attorney general of the State of Pennsylvania is here as well. Welcome, Mike.
It's good to see members of the mighty Pennsylvania congressional delegation, a fine lot. [Laughter] I know they understand the proper role of Government. And that is that Government can't make people love one another. I wish it could. I promise you, I'd sign the law—[laughter]—and they would all sponsor it. But we understand that Pennsylvania, like the other States in our Union, are full of compassionate people. And the job of Government is to serve as a catalyst to capture that compassion.
And that's incredibly important as we fight this war on terror. You know, we've got a great military might in the United States, and I can't tell you how proud I am of our military. But another strength of the country is our compassion and our love for each other.
You know, I want to thank the Big Brothers and Big Sisters who are represented here. I want to thank the Points of Light Foundation, the Network for Good. I want to thank Gloria Guard, who recently—recently, I mean just like a couple of minutes ago—[laughter]—led me on the tour of her beautiful place, where homeless women and their children are loved and cared for and given training to succeed. What a successful program that's been. You know, if we'd have had hearings on that in Washington about how to make that program successful, they'd still be meeting—[laughter]—and will be meeting and would have been meeting for a decade. But there are social entrepreneurs in our society who help define America. And one of my jobs is to herald those social entrepreneurs and to thank them on behalf of all Americans.
I believe out of this evil will come incredible good. And one of the good things that will happen is that Americans will ask the question about how I can help fight evil by doing something good. That's how I think we ought to do it. I think we ought to say that if you're interested in fighting evil, love a neighbor. If you're interested in doing something for your country, help somebody in need; write a check; give your time; volunteer.
Societies change one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time, and Government can hand out money, but it cannot put hope in people's hearts. And we're here to talk about how to put hope in people's hearts, because people love one another.
One of the things I've asked the country to do is to think about 4,000 hours of public service, for the rest of your life or 2 years. That's not hard for some, I understand that. I bet you've already done that.
Audience member. I think so.
The President. Well, you've got another 4,000 to go. [Laughter] People that responded—I mean, the response has been fantastic ever since my State of the Union, when I said, "Serve the country." Let me just give you an example: 18,000 people have asked how to—if they can join the Peace Corps. And we're going to talk about the Peace Corps in a minute. AmeriCorps is up by 50 percent. The Citizen Corps numbers are up. The Senior Corps number is up by 500 percent. In other words, Americans have been asked to respond, and they are. And for that, we're a grateful nation.
Let me just talk about the USA Freedom Corps right quick. It's a chance for people to participate. It's an opportunity for people to join the AmeriCorps, which is a way to help strengthen community; Senior Corps, which is a way to help strengthen community and/or join in the fight against terror by being a part of a neighborhood watch program, for example. The Citizens Corps, as well, are to—help reinforce the first-responders in local communities. And of course, the Peace Corps is an opportunity to spread American values throughout the world. And if people are interested in joining the USA Freedom Corps, you can do so by calling 1-877-USA-Corps— or usafreedomcorps.gov on the Internet.
But serving America doesn't have to go through USA Freedom Corps. It's just an opportunity. You can serve America all kinds of ways. You can do so through a faith-based initiative. And one of the things we must do is get our Faith-Based Initiative passed out of the United States Senate. It already has passed the House. You can do so through United Way agencies. And by the way, they're not mutually exclusive.
And if you do, one of the things that I have asked our White House staff to put together is a booklet that would give you an opportunity to record your service. And if you're interested in picking up one of these, just dial up the web site. If you're interested in recording, not only for yourself but recording for your family or a child, perhaps, what you've done to make America a better place, this is a good go-by. This is a good opportunity to bring a little discipline into your volunteer service.
When I looked at this, I envisioned kind of an interesting diary that can be passed from one generation to the next. I can't think of anything more interesting than a mom or a dad volunteering, recording his or her thoughts, giving it to a child, who gives it to a grandchild. So somebody is sitting there reading about what it was like to live in the 21st century and how to help a neighborhood in need, for example, or how to help a person in need.
I also want you to know that you can do the same thing through an online tracking system on the USA Freedom Corps web page.
And as well I'm going to instruct the agencies—Cabinets—in my Government to figure out ways to reduce barriers for people to be able to get involved better in their communities. I mean, sometimes we've got a process-oriented world. We ought to be a results-oriented world. We ought to care less about rules and regulations and more about how we're helping people help themselves. And so I'm looking forward to my Cabinet officers reporting back, and when we find barriers, we'll do everything we can to prevent them from inhibiting the love that exists in the neighborhoods around our country.
I believe that in order to live in a free society, you need to give something back. In order to make a society vibrant, all of us owe something to America. And one way to provide that is either through the military or through loving somebody and showing it through actual deeds. And I know that when you do so, I know that when you help a neighbor in need, it is a part of a complete life. It's a part of making sure that your life is not empty. It's a part of making sure that you are able to really understand the joys of a giving existence.
And so thank you for coming by. Thank you for listening to an optimistic President. I am so optimistic about our future. Not only do I believe that we're going to have lasting peace when we achieve our objectives in the war against terror, but I know that afterwards and during this period of trauma for many Americans, this country's strength, its goodness and compassion will serve as a beacon for the rest of the world to see.
God bless you.
[At this point, the discussion began.]
The President. You know, AmeriCorps has got 50,000 AmeriCorps-ians. [Laughter] And we hope to have 75,000—at least the budget calls for an increase of 50 percent in AmeriCorps corps. Thank you for your example.
Jennifer Cardy. Sure. I think that we need to get the word out to more youth.
The President. You bet.
Ms. Cardy. I think that youth is a real strength in our community.
The President. Well, one way to do so is for people to see what joy you get in serving your community and how it's a part of a full life. I think people are becoming a little less materialistic in America now. One of the things—the enemies thought we were totally materialistic, obviously. They made a terrible miscalculation about the will and might of the United States and our drive. But I think people are beginning to realize that there's more to life than just materialism. You're a living example. Thank you.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Well, thanks, Ira. Let me ask you, what's the attitude? Give us a read. How is the—at Pennsylvania, are the kids involved, interested, asking for ways to help, kind of complacent? Give us a feel.
Ira Harkavy. Not complacent at all. In fact, young people come to Penn desiring to serve, and when they come to the university, they want to put their ideals into practice. So I think this is an extraordinary generation. We have to only give them the opportunity, and they will seize that opportunity in ways we could only dream of. So this generation, both pre-college and in college, is a generation of extraordinary talent, idealism, and ability. And they want to serve. And I'm convinced they'll respond to your call.
The President. Thanks, Ira. Thanks. I appreciate you. Thanks for coming.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. I told Stephanie earlier that reading is the new civil right. And so far you've heard three speakers talk about reading. And we've got to get it right. We've got to get this right. We've got, actually, a pretty good piece of legislation— a really good piece of legislation, education legislation, a core component of which is to make sure that children learn how to read using, as Ira mentioned, a science of reading and what works.
And so thank you very much for focusing on that. You're what I call a soldier in the armies of compassion. And it's pretty extraordinary that a social entrepreneur be so young. But I want to thank you for that very much. I bet one of the things you've learned is that by serving as an example, you stimulate others to serve as well.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Thank you, Stephanie. Good luck—love your spirit. Thank you.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. I appreciate you, Captain. Thank you very much. I'm glad the captain is here as a citizen soldier, because it serves as a reminder that we've got people who make the ultimate sacrifice, people who wear the uniform. We really are fighting for freedom and fighting for lasting peace. That's the key for, particularly, young Americans to understand, that this Nation didn't ask for war but that we'll be strong when it comes to the defense of values that we hold dear. And one of them is freedom of religion—or freedom to vote or freedom to express your opinion. We're fighting evil people who cannot stand freedom.
And sacrifice is beginning to become apparent to many who never thought they would have to sacrifice. There is a new culture evolving in the country—to the benefit, I might add, of future generations—and that is that there's something greater than yourself in life, and it's worth serving. Part of service is in the military; part of service is on the streets; part of service is loving people.
And so I want to thank you for coming, Captain, and thank you for your service.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Well, I appreciate you, Elaine. Elaine's got an extraordinary spirit. She's like the Energizer Bunny when it comes to helping people—[laughter]—perpetual motion.
And first of all, let me mention something about the Peace Corps. If there are any people that are interested in spreading U.S. values around the world, the Peace Corps is a wonderful place to do so. You may share that—some of that with us, if you don't mind, just a little bit of your experience. Somebody may be watching that wonders if the Peace Corps is worthwhile.
Elaine Lander. The Peace Corps is worth every minute of it. I first decided I wanted to become a Peace Corps volunteer in third grade, when the motto was "Helping People Help Themselves." And when I graduated from college, I was fortunate; I got accepted to the Peace Corps quickly. And it was the most amazing 2 years of my life. And I tell people that all the time. You're making a call for 4,000 hours of volunteer service or 2 years. That's just a fraction of one's life span, and it's worth every minute.
The President. Our goal is to double the Peace Corps over 5 years. Our goal is as well to make sure we have the Peace Corps go to nations, particularly Muslim nations, that don't understand America. They don't understand our heart; they don't understand our compassion; they don't understand that we share the same values. I mean, listen, mom and dad love children in the Muslim world just like we do in America, and they've got to understand that, that there are some common beliefs that we share that will make—and the Peace Corps is a good way to spread that message.
Ms. Lander. Yes, I think some of us would like to say, for a lot of people, the world is a terribly big place, but for those of us that have served in the Peace Corps, it's a large planet made up of communities.
The President. That's right. The other thing is, is that Elaine is involved in kind of a first-responders program here in Philadelphia. We want people to become involved in the first-responders initiative. We have a Citizen Corps set up just for that, that really will help communities deal with disaster if disaster were ever to come. And we're doing everything, by the way, to prevent disaster from ever happening again. But should they hit us again, we need to have a response plan. And Elaine is very much involved in that as part of her duties with the Red Cross.
And I want to thank you for that as well. Thanks. Thanks for your love and your service.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Well, I appreciate that. Thanks, Dick. I thank you for your service to the country. It's never too late, is it?
First of all, you need to know that here in southeast Pennsylvania, because of the United Way, there's what's called a Volunteer Center. Chris, I want to thank you for running that. It's a place to help people find a way to volunteer. If you're interested, USA Freedom Corps doesn't suit your needs, the United Way Volunteer Center is also a good opportunity. They help train; they show you the way; they give you opportunities to—they show you where the needs are. And I want to thank you for that.
As well, we've got people here from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Steve Goldsmith, my friend, who's the former mayor of Indianapolis, is with us, as well as Les Lenkowsky. Thank you all for coming. I appreciate you being here.
I hope what America gets to see as a result of this dialog is the fact that there are people in our country who understand that a culture of responsibility requires responsible behavior. It requires people not only to take care of their own by loving your children but also requires people to love a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves.
We have living examples of people on the leading edge of ushering in a culture of personal responsibility. I want to thank you all for sharing your message with us. It is—Philadelphia is better off as a result of your daily concern for your fellow human beings.
America is strong. We won't relent. We won't relent in the face of evil. And we will win. We will win. We'll win hearts and souls and minds. This country has got a fabulous future ahead of it, because the strength of the country is not in the halls of our Government but in the hearts and souls of our citizens.
Thank you for coming.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:14 a.m. in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. In his remarks, he referred to Christine James-Brown, president and chief executive officer, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, who moderated the discussion; Mayor John F. Street of Philadelphia; Mike Fisher, Pennsylvania attorney general; Gloria Guard, executive director, People's Emergency Center; and Stephen Goldsmith, member, Board of Directors, and Leslie Lenkowsky, Chief Executive Officer, Corporation for National and Community Service. Discussion participants were: Jennifer Cardy, AmeriCorps member; Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and director, Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania; high school senior Stephanie Oliver, who founded a children's literacy project at age 13; Capt. Jeff Kyburz, USAR; Elaine Lander, nurse, American Red Cross disaster response team; and Richard Clemons, AmeriCorps*VISTA member.
George W. Bush, Remarks in a Discussion on Community Service in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/215499