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

April 11, 1989

The President. Welcome, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen. First, I'm pleased to see so many members of our Cabinet present here today, Members of the United States Congress, Senator. And welcome to all of you, our most honored guests.

Let me add that I have a slight confession to make. It's been said -- and I know this will shock you -- that sometimes I don't speak in very good English and that I have a hard time being understood. I'll admit it; it's true. And all I can say is that I'm in pretty good company, though. Look at Yogi Berra. [Laughter] When asked if he had seen "Dr. Zhivago," he said, "No, I feel fine." [Laughter] And Danny Ozark, baseball's master of the malaprop, once observed of his ballplayers, "Contrary to popular belief, I've always had a wonderful repertoire with them." See what I mean? It's not just me. Everybody does it; even these silver-tongued orators have the meaning blurred.

But today this group here makes me realize the message isn't blurred -- certainly not the message that brings us together. Let it ring loud and clear: America is great because America is good. And America's greatest deeds come from the basic decency and compassion of her people, each of you here today. And we see that decency and compassion everywhere -- in a child-care center, the Rotary, the Little League, synagogue or church. It means lending a hand, tending a wound, and helping the less fortunate.

And this is Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate those qualities. And it's my honor today to present the 1989 President's Volunteer Action Awards. These awards were first presented in 1982, and since then 148 Americans have been recognized and honored. And I've said that from now on any definition of a successful life must include serving others. And today's award recipients embody that definition.

Eleven years ago, Rose Tichy began tutoring adults through a church-sponsored literacy program in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. And she loved her work, but there weren't enough adult-level books to fit her students' needs. So, she got out her pen and enriched the printed page, and since 1978 she's written 32 books and edited the more than 100 books developed by her writers group.

Down in Huntsville, Alabama, my dinner partner, my very same Chessie Harris, once took several abandoned children into her two-bedroom home. And when the welfare department demanded a boarding license, the Harrises built a house on land purchased with money from the sale of a family farm. And since 1958, that site has been a home for more than 800 children, or about 10 for each of Chessie's 82 years. Eight hundred children -- sounds like a weekend with my grandkids in Kennebunkport, Maine, but nevertheless -- [laughter].

Allison Stieglitz, 15 years old -- listening to her at lunch, sounds a little older than that. But nevertheless, she was only 12 when she asked her parents to use the money they had planned to spend on her Bat Mitzvah to provide Thanksgiving baskets for needy families. And that first year, she gave out 15. In 1980, she donated 75. And in Miami, Allison has begun a Sunday breakfast and bag lunch program in two local temples.

Rose and Chessie and Allison and this year's 15 other President Award winners were chosen from nearly 1,500 nominations. And let's face it, the 15 just barely scratched the surface of people that are volunteering and helping all across the country. You know that prosperity without purpose means nothing. Instead, you revere what matters: simple, fundamental values like decency, goodness, self-discipline, compassion, caring.

And as President, I want to promote those basic values because they form the heart of voluntarism and of these President's Awards. And that is why we have opened the Office of National Service, which is leading our administration's national service movement. This Office will encourage partnerships between all levels of government, private enterprise, and the voluntary organizations. It's going to take things that work and carry them to the Nation. And it will enlist new volunteers in community-based efforts to combat urgent social needs. And toward that end, soon I will announce our administration's Y-E-S, or YES to America program -- Youth Entering Service. Here American youth can give of, not to, themselves. By saying yes to America, they can define a successful life.

Of course, that's what you already have done. And you know that voluntarism never asks, "What can I do for myself?" It asks, "What can I do myself for others?" And, yes, government can and should be a catalyst of caring. Its role is critical. But we have surpassed -- far surpassed -- the limits of what government alone can do. Voluntarism says that it is the private sector which has the responsibility, the understanding and, yes, the resources to confront issues like hunger, health care, homelessness, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse. Our challenge is to use that understanding and those resources to meet our responsibility. For we are a nation and a family, helping, enriching, and caring for each other. And as a family, we are committed to a nationwide effort. Voluntarism says that individuals, like communities, can join hands and exchange talents for the good of America. One person can tutor an inner-city student. That boy or girl can someday become an engineer or an artist. The child-turned-adult will then become a role model to others.

Fellow volunteers, each of you has been a role model. You have enriched the American spirit. And in that spirit, let me close on a personal note -- about a hero, if you will.

Lou Gehrig was a Hall of Fame first baseman in the 1920's and the 1930's. He played in 2,130 straight games, a record which still stands. But more than that, he was a good and decent man about whom a teammate said, "Every day, any day, he just went out and did his job." Fifty years ago, Lou Gehrig was stricken by a form of paralysis which today bears his name: Lou Gehrig's disease. And even so, he told the crowd at Yankee Stadium, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

This story has become -- certainly among sportsmen and, I think, even more widely -- an American parable. But less known is that after he left the Yankees, for much of the last 2 years of his life, he served his fellow man. He was dying, weaker by the day; he could barely move his body. But as a parole commissioner for the City of New York, he counseled and inspired kids. And they called him the Iron Horse, the Pride of the Yankees. And he was a hero.

To serve others, to enrich your community -- this truly defines a successful life. For success is personal, and it is charitable, the sum not of our possessions but of how we help our neighbors. My friends, on that score, you all have hit a grand-slam home run. Congratulations to each of you, the award-winners, and thank you for coming today. And may your example inspire and uplift others.

And now it is my distinct pleasure to present the 1980 awards. And to help me is another real volunteer, certainly the lead one in our family, Barbara Bush.

And I'd like to ask Donna Alvarado, the head of ACTION, and my dear friend, Mr. Volunteer himself, Governor George Romney, to come forward to help Barbara with these presentations. And then to all of you, our most heartfelt thanks.

Mrs. Bush. The United Auto Workers, Local 31, of Kansas City, Kansas -- Bud Carroll, Local 31 president, accepting. The United Auto Workers, Local 31, of Kansas City, Kansas, joined forces with General Motors, the city council, and other union locals to raise $100,000 and remodel its former union hall into a facility for the homeless. UAW members and retirees now volunteer at the center.

Samuel and Nanette Evans. Samuel and Nanette Evans, of Arlington, Virginia, formed the Northern Virginia Patriots, an award-winning marching band whose 450 young members perform in colonial costumes at many nationally known parades and events.

Senior Master Sergeant Apolonio E. (Ed) Garcia, of Enid, Oklahoma, tutors Spanish-speaking immigrants in English as a second language and has assisted over 50 Hispanics to get their temporary resident papers.

Chessie Harris. Chessie Harris, of Huntsville, Alabama, founded Harris Home for Children in 1958, a facility which has provided a home for over 800 abandoned children. She and Mr. Harris, who died in 1988 at the age of 93, raised the building and operating funds and managed the home.

The Judeo Christian Health Clinic -- Rhea Hurwitz accepting. The Judeo Christian Health Clinic, Tampa, Florida, organized in 1972 by a Presbyterian church and now managed by a group of local churches, involves over 400 volunteer physicians and other professionals in providing health care to low-income people who do not qualify for public assistance.

The Great American First Savings Bank, You Miss School -- You Miss Out program -- James Schmidt, vice chairman, accepting. The Great American First Savings Bank, You Miss School -- You Miss Out program, San Diego, is designed to increase school attendance by involving bank employees in school activities through Adopt a School programs, drawings for cash incentives for perfect attendance, and special community events.

Walter Maddocks, of Lancaster, Kentucky. Walter Maddocks headed Rotary International's Polio Plus program, a long-term commitment to eradicate polio in developing countries. Polio Plus has raised over $168 million in cash and provided vaccines for children in 79 countries to date.

The Association of Junior Leagues, New York City -- Maridel J. Moulton accepting. The Association of Junior Leagues, New York City, founded in 1921, provides personal development and issues training for members, advocacy at the national level on subjects of interest to women and children, and special programs emphasis on such topics as teen pregnancy and women and alcohol.

Habitat for Humanity, International -- Amy Parsons accepting. Habitat for Humanity, International, based in Americus, Georgia, involves over 35,000 volunteers in 324 sites, who develop simple, decent, affordable housing for low-income families. Habitat provides no-interest loans, and the buyers provide sweat equity.

Inner City Development, Incorporated -- Patti and Rod Radle accepting. Inner City Development, Incorporated, organized to offer hope to the Hispanic residents of San Antonio's inner city, provides a food and clothing bank, a tutoring program, family counseling, the city's largest recreation program, and a Christmas toy program that allows parents to purchase toys for 10 percent of their actual price.

The Virginia Power Volunteer Program -- Dr. James T. Rhodes, president and chief executive officer, accepting. The Virginia Power Volunteer Program provides an organized way for company employees and retirees to volunteer in community activities through 60 volunteer team councils. Employees participated in more than 1,500 projects, totaling over 100,000 hours of service in 1988.

Covenant House -- Father Bruce Ritter accepting. Covenant House, founded in New York in 1968 by Father Bruce Ritter to provide shelter to runaway and abandoned children, involves over 300 volunteers a month as tutors, staffing recreation programs, providing counseling and operating outreach programs, There are also Covenant Houses in Houston, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, and Toronto.

Compeer, Inc. -- M. Norton Rosner, chairman of the board, accepting. Compeer, Inc., based in Rochester, New York, matches training caring volunteers in one-to-one relationships with over 10,000 mental health clients in 120 communities.

REACH -- David Schaff, vice president of REACH program accepting. REACH -- Responsible, Educated Adolescents Can Help -- of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, involves 30 junior and senior high school students who develop and deliver a strong drug and alcohol abuse message to elementary school students.

The California Marine Mammal Center -- Mary Jane Schramm accepting. The California Marine Mammal Center, based in Sausalito, involves over 330 volunteers out of a staff of 350 in rescuing, rehabilitating, and returning to their environment sick, injured, and distressed marine mammals.

The Clothing Bank: New Clothes for the Homeless -- Edward Shapiro accepting. The Clothing Bank: New Clothes for the Homeless was developed in 1986 by the J.M. Kaplan Fund and New York City Mayor's Voluntary Action Center. The Clothing Bank has provided over 1.25 million items of new clothing worth over $6 million to the city's homeless through 250 nonprofit agencies.

Allison Stieglitz. Allison Stieglitz, of Miami, Florida, developed the Thanksgiving Basket program when she was 13 years old, a program that now provides 75 baskets each Thanksgiving. She also helped to develop a Sunday breakfast program that feeds 250 homeless people each week.

Rose Tichy. Rose Tichy, of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, began her work in literacy as a tutor and has since written 32 books geared to the skills of a beginning adult reader on topics such as obtaining a driver's license, AIDS, and books of interest to Ohio readers.

The President. Congratulations, but much more important, thanks for what you do to set this example in our great country.

But finally we come to a man I'm pleased to honor now. Twenty-two years ago, having moved to the East Village in New York to help the urban poor, Father Ritter opened his door one night to see six children; and they were asking for a place to stay. And eventually, as you heard, Father Ritter founded Covenant House to provide a shelter for abandoned and runaway children. Today his program involves over 1,200 volunteers each month, and it offers shelter to more than 25,000 children each year. My friends, because of Covenant House, a child has escaped heroin addiction; another no longer yearns for a decent meal; still another views the world as a warm, not sullen place. And it is an American success story almost without parallel.

Last year a new award was created to honor the individual or organization whose contribution to voluntarism is greatest among those winning the Volunteer Action Awards. And so, I am pleased to announce Father Ritter as this administration's first recipient of an award named for a great President and our dear friend, the Ronald Reagan Award for Volunteer Excellence.

And to Father Ritter and all of you, our warmest congratulations. Thank you all very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Senator Dave Durenberger of Minnesota.

George Bush, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the President's Volunteer Action Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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