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Public Papers - 1989 - June

Remarks at a Luncheon Hosted by the New York Partnership and the Association for a Better New York in New York, New York


Distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen, Barbara and I appreciate this wonderful turnout, this generous reception. And let me salute that magnificent film and thank you, Ray, for putting it together. I just stopped choking up coming from Covenant House, and now I had to go through it again here at lunch. But it was a moving call to action.

What a few weeks it's been! Things are moving on a lot of fronts: NATO moving in the right direction, China -- we're all very concerned about that. As I say, I just came from Covenant House, so I feel uplifted by that. And yesterday -- if I might make a very personal observation before addressing myself to the subject at hand, I want to comment on the Supreme Court decision about our flag. I understand the legal basis for that decision, and I respect the Supreme Court. And as President of the United States, I will see that the law of the land is fully supported. But I have to give you my personal, emotional response. Flag-burning is wrong -- dead wrong -- and the flag of the United States is very, very special.

It is indeed an honor to address the members and guests of the New York Partnership and also the Association for a Better New York, for already you've enriched fields from business and labor to education and the media. And we meet today to go still further -- to join hands and link hearts, as the film said, to light the American sky.

I begin with a single, simple statement: There is no problem in America that is not being solved somewhere. There is no problem in America that is not being solved somewhere -- think of that. Today millions of Americans, the quiet Americans, the selfless Americans, are giving of their time and themselves. And they work at day-care centers and inner-city schools, homes for the elderly, anywhere there's a need, anytime they are needed, making a difference in the lives of those for whom the American dream seems an impossible dream.

And already, this involvement -- what we term national or community service -- has helped countless Americans find self-respect and dignity, but the job is far from complete. Too many Americans still endure a living nightmare of want, a living nightmare of isolation -- and that must stop. Ladies and gentlemen, we must bring back those who feel unwelcome. We must reawaken their hope for the future.

We know that government can't rebuild a family or reclaim a sense of neighborhood. We know that during the past two decades we've spent more money on more social programs than at any time in our history, and some problems aren't better -- in fact, some are worse. Most Americans understand that the key to constructive change is building relationships, not bureaucracies. And they know that those who say, ``It's government's problem,'' are really part of the problem themselves.

All my life I've believed that government could not substitute for ``do unto others.'' Barbara and I, like I told Lew and David and Jim Robinson -- it's like preaching to the choir here today -- that Barbara and I, like all of you here, have tried to pitch in, in some way do our small part. Midland, Texas -- I'll never forget it -- it was starting a YMCA, working with the United Way, coaching a little league ball team, helping to build a community theater -- and dating way back to my days in New Haven, raising funds for the United Negro College Fund. And I'm not going to give you equal time, because so many of you have done so much more.

We've all done these things, and as we participated, we fulfilled ourselves, learning that we are not what we drive or where we live or what kind of clothes we wear -- rather, learning that America's greatness rests on the goodness of her people. And these beliefs are beyond any individual; they're timeless. Today more than ever, we need community service to help dropouts, pregnant teens, drug abusers, the homeless, AIDS victims, the hungry and illiterate. Often they are disadvantaged, and as their communities disintegrate around them, they become disconnected from society.

Our challenge, then, is to raise their spirits and their expectations by engaging each citizen, school and business and church, synagogue and service organization and civic group. For this is what I mean when I talked about a Thousand Points of Light: that vast galaxy of people and institutions working together to solve problems in their own backyard.

I am here today to ask that both sectors, private and public, and all branches of all levels of government, join this great movement to extend national service into every corner of America -- for it's a movement, bold and unprecedented. This is not a program, not another bureaucracy.

Let me tell you the strategy of this movement: first, to issue a call to action and to claim problems as your own; second, to identify, enlarge, and recreate what is working; and third, to discover and encourage new leaders.

First, our call to action -- it is individual, and yet collective, and it begins this afternoon with you. So, today I ask all Americans and all institutions, large and small, to make service central to your life and work. I urge all business leaders to consider community service in hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions. I call upon nonprofit and service groups to open your doors to all those who want to help, irrespective of age, background, or level of experience. And leaders of high schools and colleges, I urge you to uphold the values of community service and to encourage students, faculty, and personnel to serve others. To every corporation, large and small, I say: Begin a literacy program that teaches each employee how to read. And to every member of a body of higher learning: Start a Big Brother or Big Sister program for kids in your neighborhood. Of every church and synagogue, I ask: Become an around-the-clock community center. And of every restaurant and grocery store: Distribute surplus food to soup kitchens and local shelters.

And to the youth of America, I issue a special appeal. Yesterday on the South Lawn of the White House, we held a kickoff rally for a key element of our strategy: the YES Initiative, or Youth Engaged In Service to America. It was attended by thousands of kids, some of those Points of Light I like to talk about. And I challenged every young American to fight against self-absorption and to emulate those leaders who have shown that there is no problem in America that is not being solved somewhere.

Their presence reminded me of the saying, ``Life is not a state of time; life is a state of mind.'' So is our call to community service; it summons the young and the old. I believe Americans will listen to that call. Emerson once said, ``The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.'' Well, today, across our 50 States, groups and individuals are giving of -- not to -- themselves. Americans like these are missionaries, and they're heroes. And our mission is to achieve nationally what they're doing locally.

To complete it will require a catalyst. And so, that brings me to the second part of our strategy, and I am proud to announce it now: a new effort to identify service programs that work and then carry them to America. We call this catalyst the Points of Light Initiative, a foundation of which I will serve as honorary chairman and that will help make our movement a reality.

I will soon ask Congress for million annually to support this initiative, which in turn will seek matching funds from the private sector. But I will also name an advisory committee to report to me within 45 days of its first meeting on the structure, composition, and legislation needed to achieve the foundation's goals. And I am very pleased and proud to announce today that Governor Tom Kean of New Jersey, one of this nation's most dedicated and caring public servants, has agreed to head this committee. Tom, thank you very much.

But look, a Federal effort alone cannot succeed. And therefore, today we invite each Governor, and through them the mayors of all municipalities, to join our movement by forming State and local Points of Light working groups composed of outstanding leaders. These individuals will become a vehicle to solve problems locally and to help solve problems nationally. The Points of Light Initiative will be a magnet for the best ideas and brightest programs in community service. For while countless service initiatives are already working successfully, they're too often isolated, too often unknown to others. Our foundation will change all that. By bringing success stories to other communities, we will repeat them across the nation.

We will repeat them through a foundation initiative to be called the ServNet Project. Professional firms, corporations, unions, schools, religious, civic, and not-for-profit groups will be asked to donate the services of some of their most important, talented, and promising people for a period of time. These extraordinary individuals will form and lead peer-to-peer working groups -- for example, lawyers going to fellow lawyers, teachers to fellow teachers, union members to fellow union members. ServNet will provide training and technical assistance, showing what works and what doesn't.

But we also have to improve current methods of matching people with meaningful service opportunities. Volunteer centers should be directly accessible to all Americans in their neighborhoods. Such contact points may be in a place of worship or union hall or library or fire station, a business building, service group headquarters, neighborhood home -- you name it.

Over time, through an initiative called the ServLink Project, the foundation will stimulate the development through private sector resources of technology links between those who wish to serve and those needing service in the inquirer's own community. And in addition, we will ask banks, credit card users, telephone and utility companies to include in statement envelopes information about how people and their institutions can become engaged in serving others.

And like the foundation itself, these efforts can help individuals and institutions provide new hope to America. And so can the third part of our movement's strategy: our initiative to discover and encourage new leaders of every age in every town and city, and to inspire them to devote their talents and energies to national service, and then to honor those who excel.

Through the foundation, the YES Initiative will annually select two college-aged youth from each State as President's National Service Youth Representatives. And they'll spend 1 year traveling through their regions as service ambassadors, urging other young Americans to get involved. And Points of Light will convene youth and regional Presidential Leadership Forums, uniting young people, educators, and community activists.

From such action will come achievement. And such achievement should be rewarded. And so, we'll ask media from small-town weeklies to network television to profile the brightest stars of community service. And our foundation will also recognize successful community initiatives and outstanding leaders through two new Presidential awards: the National Service Youth Leadership Awards, given each year to individuals, and the Build A Community Award, honoring partnerships which work together to strengthen families and decaying neighborhoods in America.

All of this will help fulfill us as Americans by asking us to combat problems like loneliness and poverty and drug abuse and homelessness. We cannot afford to fail, and we won't. For as Americans, we know what is at stake. We know that voluntarism can help those free-falling through society. We know that as citizens and institutions we can use one-to-one caring to truly love thy neighbor. And we know, finally, that from now on any definition of a successful life must include serving others. And we must resolve to carry this belief to every person in the land.

Two centuries ago just last year, Alexander Hamilton sent a letter urging General Washington to seek the Presidency. And he wrote him: ``The point of light in which you stand will make an infinite difference.'' My friends, national service will succeed. It can make an infinite difference in the life of these United States, for a Thousand Points can light the lives of a people and a nation. Remember, there is no problem that is not being solved somewhere in America. You -- you in this room who have already done so much -- can prove that statement a thousand times over. It is in our hands.

God bless you. We need your help. And God bless our great country. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Ray Chambers, chairman of WESRAY Capital Corp.; Lewis Rudin, chairman of the Association for a Better New York; David Rockefeller and James D. Robinson III, founder and chairman of the New York Partnership, respectively. Prior to the President's remarks, a video on voluntarism was shown.

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