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Bush Lauds Volunteerism

POSTED: September 09, 2008, 12:00 am

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President Bush welcomed guests, among them NSnewstv Executive Editor Walter Fields, to the South Lawn of the White House on Monday to promote volunteerism and laud the efforts of volunteers serving communities throughout the country. Well over 1,000 guests, many of them from volunteer programs in various states, attended the event just days before the seventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; a day noted in American history for the extraordinary efforts of rescue volunteers. The President acknowledged the event and noted, “The terrorists who attacked our country on September the 11th didn't understand our country at all. Evil may crush concrete and twist steel, but it can never break the spirit of the American people.”

The President used much of his speech to tout the USA Freedom Corps, an initiative established by the Bush administration. The Freedom Corps was launched in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. The President announced the initiative in his 2002 State of the Union address, calling upon Americans to donate 4,000 hours or two years to national service during their lifetime.

In prepared remarks, Mr. Bush said, “USA Freedom Corps fosters a culture of service by encouraging the private sector to step forward. We got what we call the pro bono challenge, which encourages corporate professionals to donate their services to charities and nonprofits. That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it, to encourage corporate America to not only serve their shareholders, but serve the communities in which they exist.” To mark the event, USA Freedom Corps issued a report, “Answering the Call to Service,” detailing volunteer initiatives spearheaded during the Bush administration. The report can be found online at www.volunteer.gov.

As part of his volunteer initiative President Bush created the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. The Council launched the “Pro Bono Challenge,” a project that promotes corporate social responsibility by bringing together leaders from the worlds of business, entertainment, sports, education, government, nonprofits, and media to answer the call to service. President Bush acknowledged the efforts of IBM during his speech by recognizing its CEO, Sam Palmisano, who was in attendance. Mr. Bush told the audience, “One really interesting, innovative idea came out of IBM this year. IBM employees will donate millions of dollars of service to charities in the U.S., as well as technology projects in developing nations. They tell me that this work would cost $250 million if IBM's devoted employees were charging, and not providing for free.”

One program that President Bush acknowledged as a success in mobilizing volunteers was the Peace Corps. A legacy of the Kennedy administration, Peace Corps volunteers have served as America’s Good Will Ambassadors for almost five decades. The President made note that there are 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers worldwide, serving in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Mr. Bush said his administration re-opened 13 Peace Corps branches around the world. Mr. Bush acknowledged one volunteer, Praya Baruch, who spent two years in Ghana working with people who are HIV positive and educating young people on the issue of HIV and their heath.

Given the state of the economy, there is perhaps no better time to launch a focus on volunteerism than when there is tremendous need on the ground that cannot be fully met by government. Across the nation volunteers are playing a vital role across the spectrum to provide those services that are in demand. Such efforts are often the critical difference in maintaining an individual’s quality of life and keeping people from slipping further into despair during difficult personal circumstances. Volunteers also provide support that enables individuals to better position themselves for future opportunities; for example, literacy programs for children and adults. Mr. Bush pointed out the value of volunteers urging “Our fellow citizens to devote 4,000 hours over your lifetime in service to your country. You'll become a better person for it, and our society will be more healthy as a result of it. You know, there's an old adage that says, you can bring hope to the lives of others, but the life you enrich the most will probably be your own.”

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