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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at a Points of Light Awards Ceremony for the American Business Press Association


Thank you all. Please be seated. Thank you all for being here. And I know that I'm joining this program in progress, but it is my pleasure to officially welcome all of you to the White House. And let me salute Gerry Hobbs, the chairman of the American Business Press; your president, John Emery; and Cathy Black, president of the Association, the American Newspaper Publishers Association, and a member, I might proudly say, of our Points of Light Foundation.

Let me -- I don't know where he is, he was at the door a minute ago. Here's Gregg, Gregg Petersmeyer, you can't miss him. [Laughter] But I do want to single out Gregg, salute him for the inspirational job he's doing as our key person here involved in this whole Points of Light concept.

And finally, I want to thank the American Business Press for encouraging their member publications to spill ink on behalf of such a good cause. We all know the value of competition in the business world. And this awards program shines the spotlight on companies that transform their communities through volunteer service.

As I've said before, American corporations are not just profitmaking monoliths. American businesses and America's business press aren't just stocked with human resources, so many infinitesimal fractions of the GNP. They're filled with real people, men and women, neighbors, members of our communities, parents with kids to raise, people with something to give, gifts to give. And one glance into the pages of your publications shows business at its best: people producing goods and services we need; people devoting tens of thousands of hours to worthy causes.

Take this year's grand award winner, Wegmans Food Markets, a family-run supermarket chain based in Rochester, New York, profiled in Supermarket Business. Supermarkets often draw on school-age workers to fill their part-time work force, and we all know the difficulties of holding down a job and keeping up in school. Four years ago, Wegmans initiated the Work-Scholarship Connection, a program to help kids succeed at work and in the classroom. And their target: 14- and 15-year-olds, especially those faltering at school, the kind of kids in danger of becoming tomorrow's dropouts.

Wegmans gives these kids a part-time job and assigns each one a mentor at the supermarket: an adult coworker, possibly a supervisor, who lends a hand with homework during work breaks or maybe just lends a sympathetic ear to some teenager too used to adults who just don't seem to care. Each mentor works with a school sponsor to track their child's progress. And Wegmans is tough. You've got to do the job in school. And if the kids don't do well, Wegmans hears about it and cuts the kid's work hours.

But there's a real payoff for the kids who graduate. Each one gets a scholarship of up to ,000 to the college of their choice. And yes, if they go to a college near home, they keep their job at Wegmans. [Laughter]

No, but that work-scholarship program of theirs shows how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

The mentors who make Wegmans' program work aren't paralyzed because they can't singlehandedly save the world. They're too busy saving the future, the child who lives right down the street. That same spirit motivates the runners-up that we honor today: Bell Atlantic, for its family literacy project, profiled in the School Library Journal; Eaton Corporation, for its literacy work in Atlanta as reported in Business Atlanta Magazine; Neon Enterprises, for its work with at-risk youth and others in need, as publicized in Restaurant Business; Red Lobster Restaurants, recognized by Training: The Human Side of Business for their 20-year policy of hiring the disabled; and finally, Jose Paulino, whose story was told in the pages of Pharmaceutical Representative.

You won't find Jose's name on the Fortune 500, maybe, but when he's not busy making sales, you can find him at New York's P.S. 136, where he's adopted a seventh grade class. In the article, Jose says about adopting a class, and I quote, ``It doesn't cost anything. It doesn't take that much.'' Well, whatever it takes, he's got his share and more.

Every one of the American Business Press's Points of Light proves you never know who's ready to help until you ask. And when Wegmans started their program, it lined up 30 junior high students who needed help and put out a call for 15 employees to become mentors, to step into the program to help. Fifty-nine volunteers stepped forward and the program's taken off from there.

So, this is a wonderful example. These are wonderful examples for our entire country. And, you know, when we first started this, there were some who started emphasizing this concept that de Tocqueville found so fascinating about America, the propensity of one American to help another. Some suggested that we were trying to avoid the Government's responsibility, but that's not the way it works. This whole concept that you all represent and believe in is really the best and most fundamental way we can of helping others and helping our own communities in strengthening the family in this country or doing better for education.

But we're going to try to do our part here at the Federal level, but I must say that I just feel overcome because I see the effectiveness of this whole spirit of Points of Light concept, one American helping another. And it is inspirational, and I really wanted to just come over and thank the business press for opening the pages of its very influential publications, opening eyes in so many industries to the shining story of so many Points of Light.

So, once again, my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you, and God bless you all for the contributions you make. And now, I'm told that I get to say hello to some, at least, of those that you're honoring here today.

Thank you very, very much.

Note. The President spoke at 11:22 a.m. in Room 450 at the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, the President referred to Gerry Hobbs and John Emery, chairman and president, respectively, of the American Business Press Association; Cathy Black, president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association; C. Gregg Petersmeyer, Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of National Service; and Jose Paulino, sales representative for Hoechst-Roussel Pharmaceuticals.

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