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Public Papers - 1993 - January

Remarks at a Celebration of the Points of Light

1993-01-14

Thank you all very, very much. And I'm just delighted to be with you today to celebrate the work of those wonderful Americans we call Points of Light. And I think our First Lady is a Point of Light. So I salute her for what she's done in literacy and helping this country understand the importance of reading.

There's another guy here who's been a personal Point of Light to me, and that's Gregg Petersmeyer, who many of you know. In a sense it was his dream and his dedication that made all this possible. And Joe and Jenny, your witnessing, your testimony really makes this speech superfluous. I don't need to do it, but I will anyway. [Laughter] But thank you. You said it all with your own lives.

I also want to thank the leaders of three new institutions that have been established in the last 4 years: Tom Ehrlich of the Commission on National and Community Service, Dick Munro of the Points of Light Foundation, and Solon Cousins of the National Center for Community Risk Management and Insurance. And I also want to thank my friends: Ray Chambers, what an inspiration he has been in this whole voluntarism concept; Pete McCloskey; also George Romney, who I hope is here with us today. But we're grateful.

What an honor it is to have Larnelle here, Larnelle Harris, for helping make this event so very special. Anybody that can get up without a pitch pipe or a band and do what he did, we've got to look them over and see what makes him tick. [Laughter] But I'll tell you, his song said it all; his song got right to the heart. And I understand that he's just been nominated for his seventh Grammy Award. And Presidents ought not to do this, but I know who I'm rooting for. So there we are.

But above all, Barbara and I wanted to come over and thank the Points of Light that we're honoring today. I know that many of them have gone to great efforts to get here. And lots of folks ask me about the phrase, Points of Light. And some say it's religion; others say, well, it's a patriotic theme, like the flag; and others think it's an image of hope. But I think that Points of Light are all of these things and yet still something more. It's what happens when ordinary people claim the problems of their community as their own. And it's the inspiration and awakening to the God-given light from within, lit from within, and it's the promise of America.

We've got Points of Light here today from all 50 States, shining all the way from Anchorage to Harlem, Miami to Maine. And never before has there been so much light in this marvelous house. Each of you here today knows what I mean by that. Each of you found within yourselves your own special genius for helping others. And each discovered the imagination to see things that others could not: the human dignity in the eyes of a homeless man; the musicians and business leaders in an inner-city gang; the light and laughter in the shadows of a shattered life.

I've always believed that in each individual, there's a Point of Light waiting to be revealed; in each community, a thousand miracles waiting to happen. And when I assumed this great office, I pledged to do all I could to honor, encourage, and increase volunteer efforts until their light filled every dark corner of our country.

We began with a national strategy. And if you'll bear with me, I'd like to remind you of what that strategy is: first, changing attitudes so that all Americans define a successful life as one that includes serving others; and second, identifying what is already working so that those efforts can be enlarged and multiplied; and third, encouraging leaders to help others become Points of Light; and fourth, reducing volunteer liability, because I believe that it's time that we ought to care for each other more and sue each other less; and fifth and finally, within every community, linking people to ways that they can help.

Everything I've done as President has tried to support this strategy. And that's why we've worked together to create the Points of Light Foundation, the Commission on National and Community Service, and then the National Center for Community Risk Management and Insurance.

We envision national service not as a Government program, not even as a White House initiative but as a grassroots movement, a movement that makes full use of the many different ways that Americans want to help. This strategy is significant not because it indicates Washington's role but because it illuminates yours. And this is something where it's easy to miss the constellation for the stars.

You see, it's not just Points of Light that are important. It's the idea that every community in America could be filled with light. America could become like this room. You're only a fraction of the stories that we've told. And those stories are only a fraction of those that could be told.

You know, look around this room and then picture what would happen throughout America if every former gang member discovered the Rodney Dailey within and offered young people good alternatives to life on the streets. Imagine if every member, every member of a club, like the Rotary Readers, filled someone's life with the wonder of reading. Or what if every little girl found the imagination to follow Isis Johnson to clothe the cold and feed the hungry in her little corner of America. Imagine what America would look like.

Regardless of what we believe Government should do, all of us agree that no serious social problem in this country is going to be solved without the active engagement of millions of citizens in tens of thousands of institutions, schools and businesses, churches and clubs, armies of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Government has a critical role in helping people and so does solid, sustainable economic growth. But people, people, not programs, solve problems. And somewhere in America, every serious social problem is being solved through voluntary service, for therein lies the greatest national resource of all. It doesn't matter who you are. Everybody's got something to give: a job skill, a free hour, a pair of strong arms. And that's what I mean when I say that from now on, any definition of a successful life must include serving others.

Let me tell you another story about success. Today, I've recognized the 1,014th Daily Point of Light, the Lakeland Middle School eighth grade volunteers. These remarkable young people from Baltimore have overcome their own challenges to become tutors and role models for younger students in special education. Their special courage reminds me of the words of a poet who said, ``The generosity is not in giving me that which I need more than you do, but in giving me that which you need more than I do.'' That courage has made the Lakeland eighth graders into the wonderful and confident young people who grace our lives today.

Because I know that America is filled with young people who want to help, I signed an Executive order last October that created the President's Youth Service Award. And as with the President's Physical Fitness Award, young people in voluntary service will be able to receive Presidential recognition in their local communities.

I want to thank the boards of the commission, the foundation, and the American Institute for Public Service for their help in implementing this program. What all of us seek in our life is meaning and adventure. And it's through service that all of us can find both.

Barbara and I will soon be making our way back to Texas, and I'd like to leave you with one thought: If I could leave but one legacy to this country, it would not be found in policy papers or even in treaties signed or even wars won; it would be return to the moral compass that must guide America through the next century, the changeless values that can and must guide change. And I'm talking about a respect for the goodness that made this country great, a rekindling of that light lit from within to reveal America as it truly is, a country with strong families, a country of millions of Points of Light.

I want to thank the Points of Light in this room and everywhere across this country, those that we have recognized and the millions more that have found no recognition but are doing the Lord's work.

Thank you and God bless you all. And God bless the U.S.A.

Note: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Ray Chambers, founding chairman, Points of Light Foundation; Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey and George Romney, members of the board of directors, Commission on National and Community Service; gospel singer Larnelle Harris; and the following Points of Light: Joe Thompson, Jenny Richardson, Rodney Dailey of Gang Peace, and Isis Johnson. The Executive order of October 28, 1992, which established a Presidential Youth Award for Community Service is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.

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