Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Members of VISTA - "Volunteers in Service to America."

December 12, 1964

Mr. Shriver and ladies and gentlemen:

I want to welcome you here today, the first frontline volunteers in our war against poverty. You have come from every part of this country, from every age group, from every background. You have come to serve the poor and the unfortunate of American society, and to open the door of American opportunity to all of our American people.

Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor will often be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort, and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their Nation and who serve their fellow man.

You are the first, as Sargent Shriver said, of the 3500 Volunteers in Service to America who will go into the field during this first year. No aspect of the war against poverty will be more important than the work that you do. New programs and new ideas, institutions, and administrators all will be fruitless unless we can reach--directly and personally--those that we are all trying so hard to help.

This is your job--to guide the young, to comfort the sick, to encourage the downtrodden, to teach the skills which may lead to a more satisfying and a more rewarding life. On your idealism and on your success rests much of our hope for the final elimination of poverty in our American life.

You bring to this task many varied skills. You have been trained in educational institutions of every level. Many of you bring a lifetime of experience and of fruitful labor for this country that we all love. All of you are willing to share the privation of the poor. And ultimately you will share the greatest victory in the life of any nation.

It is characteristic of America that we meet our great challenges. We meet them in war and we meet them in peace, through calling on the idealism and the love of country of all of our people. They have always responded, and the challenge has always been met.

Your presence here this morning, and the many who will follow, testifies to the fact that this basic strength of America is always equal to any task.

The initials of your organization spell VISTA. It is an appropriate name, for you will be opening up new vistas of hope for the poor, achievement for yourself, greatness for your Nation, the Nation you serve.

VISTA volunteers stand ready to serve at the request of every community and every neighborhood, every organization and institution, which joins the war against poverty.

I believe--I know--that you will receive the support of all Americans. And I hope that all those with skills and dedication to offer will come and join with you in this most extraordinary force for good in our country.

It is a pleasure to welcome you here in the White House, and it is with great pride that I welcome you in this new undertaking.

Note: The President spoke at 12:23 p.m. in the Theater at the White House. His opening words referred to Sargent Shriver, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Chairman of the Economic Council, and Director of the Peace Corps, who introduced the group of 20 VISTA volunteers meeting with the President.

A White House release dated December 16 listed 162 new war on poverty projects announced by the President that day and noted that VISTA, the domestic version of the Peace Corps, was under the direction of the Office of Economic Opportunity. The release stated that 99 volunteers, the first of the 3,500 planned for the opening year, "would help teach, train, and counsel impoverished Americans in migrant worker communities, big-city slums, and hill towns of Appalachia." The group, the release further stated, would work on 12 separate projects in 28 communities.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Members of VISTA - "Volunteers in Service to America." Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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