Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 24, 1997

Remarks by President Clinton
Former President George Bush
General Colin Powell, and Secretary Henry Cisneros
at the National Service Summit Announcement

The East Room
2:52 P.M. EST
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I thank the Vice President and the First Lady for their remarks. Obviously, I am delighted to have President Bush, General Powell, and Secretary Cisneros back. Henry's only been off the payroll a day or two. (Laughter.) I didn't really know if he'd come. (Laughter.)

I thank so many people here who have advocated national service and citizen service of various kinds for a long time. Especially I'd like to acknowledge, in addition to Harris Wofford and Bob Goodwin, Eli Segal and Ray Chambers; Al From with the Democratic Leadership Council; Charles Moskos, the national scholar of citizen service, who was for all this years before the rest of us knew it was an issue. Thank you, sir, for all your lifetime of work devoted to the proposition that the American people can forge their own destiny and solve their own problems. We thank you.

This is an extraordinary collection of Americans who have gathered here, not only on the stage but out here in the room, to advance the cause of citizen service. Much of the work of America cannot be done by government. Much other work cannot be done by government alone. The solution must be the American people through voluntary service to others.

The challenges we face today, especially those that face our children, require something of all of us -- parents, religious and community groups, business, labor organizations, schools, teachers, our great national civic and service organizations, every citizen.

One of my proudest moments as President was signing the bill creating the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps. During the last three years, about 50,000 Americans have earned aid for college by serving in their communities, doing real work to address critical problems, cleaning up rivers, working with the police to make the streets safe, helping children learn to read, and doing many, many more things in every state in the country.

These AmeriCorps members and even larger numbers of Senior Service Corps and student volunteers have really helped to revive the spirit of service in America. I noticed just a few days before the Inauguration the publication of a national poll -- I can mention that now and you think I have not self-interest, you see -- (laughter) -- the publication of a national poll that said that young people are serving in their communities in far higher percentages than just a few years ago.

I think is a culmination of years and years of effort. When President Bush held this office, he understood that so much of what is good in America has to be done, and is being done, by people who are outside Washington and outside the federal government. And we share his hope that by holding up examples of ordinary Americans engaged in extraordinary service, by holding up those 1,000 Points of Light, they will grow by the power of their example into millions of points of light. And we thank you for that. (Applause.)

Citizen service belongs to no party, no ideology. It is an American idea which every American should embrace. Today I am pleased to announce that we are taking an important step to give more Americans the opportunity to fulfill that promise.

On April 27th, in Philadelphia, with the support and leadership of the Corporation For National Service, the Points Of Light Foundation, General Colin Powell and Secretary Henry Cisneros, President Bush and I will convene the first President's Summit On Citizen Service. Our goal is to mobilize America's citizen power in a united effort to solve our common problems, especially those that threaten our young people.

Leaders from a broad spectrum will come with commitments in hand, concrete pledges of support and volunteers to solve their local problems. In preparation for the summit some of our most prominent corporations and service organizations have already stepped forward. Big Brothers-Big Sisters has pledged to double their mentoring relations, matching 200,000 deserving young people with caring adults through the 2000. And they have pledged to compound their efforts by having these adult volunteers actually do other citizen service projects with the young people they mentor. They not only will be serving the young, but calling on the young to serve.

Lens Crafters will provide one million needy Americans, especially children, with free vision care by the year 2003. Columbia HCA, a leading health care company, has committed to immunize one million children through their health care facilities by the year 2000. And that is just the beginning.

I am delighted that General Colin Powell, who has served our country is so very many ways, has agreed to serve once again, this time as general chair of the summit.

General, we're grateful that you're joining us. And I remember well when you had your retirement ceremony, you said that you were going to devote more of your life to helping young people to have better lives and better futures. There is nothing, nothing you could do that would have a bigger impact on that goal than this. And we are very grateful to you, sir. (Applause.)

All of you know that I believe Henry Cisneros is the finest HUD Secretary who ever served our country. He had a special way of getting people to take responsibility for their own lives of generating real interpersonal human contacts in places where they had been too long absent. He just has a great new leadership job at Univision, and I am very grateful that he was willing to take substantial time out of an already very busy schedule in a new and fulfilling in some ways more rewarding life -- (laughter) -- to do what I know he loves best, which is to help people realize their own promise. Thank you, Henry, for doing that. (Applause.)

Finally, let me say I am deeply honored to be embarking on this joint venture with President Bush. As far as I know, there's not much of a precedent for this sort of thing, at least in recent history, but there should be. It must be true that the things which unite us as citizens are bigger than any one person, one party, one election, or one ideology. They can only be solved if we come together in partnership to lift each other up -- a person at a time a family at a time, a neighborhood at a time, a school at a time.

The organizers of this effort have wisely chosen Philadelphia as the site of the summit, for the reasons that the Vice President said.

I'm reminded at the close of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin made an observation about a design of the sun that was hanging low on the horizon in the chair that General Washington sat in to preside over the Convention. And after the Constitutional Convention was over, he said there had been a lot of speculation about whether it was a rising or a setting sun; having seen the Constitution he could say that it was definitely a rising sun.

I believe we can look at this assemblage today, look forward to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and say this is a rising sun.

I thank all of you. I thank especially those who are here on this platform. And I'd like to ask all of you to join me as we hear from our speakers. First, President Bush; to be followed by General Powell and Henry Cisneros.

Mr. President, welcome back. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, all. Mr. President, thank you, sir. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. Mr. President, thank you, sir, and Hillary -- Mrs. Clinton, our First Lady, for this wonderful welcome back and for your extraordinarily kind and overly generous remarks.

Of course, I'm pleased to be here, joining the President, Colin Powell -- my old dear friend, comrade-in-arms, you might say -- and, of course, Henry Cisneros, who I knew before most of you did, back when he was the Mayor of San Antonio -- to salute all on this Summit on Volunteerism. Of course, we have here volunteer organizations. And I wish I could single out every single one of them, every single individual who's volunteering.

Mr. President, I hope that our joining together, the fact that our predecessors and their spouses -- previous Presidents have also indicated support for this summit, sends a simple and a strong message. And that is that when it comes to addressing many of the problems we face as a nation, it isn't a question of partisan politics, of one side against another, it's a question of all pulling together for the common good.

And during the four previous that I was privileged to serve in this magnificent house, one of the most rewarding experiences that I had was meeting with the different groups, thousands of people, who got involved in their communities and helped to make them better places to live -- senior citizens monitoring school kids in Texas, or a local foundation offering medical services to at-risk families in Ohio; then there was a homeless shelter in California. And every day, it was a different story, from a different place, but the premise was always the same -- somebody cared and somebody acted.

The point is, after all the stories, you realize there isn't a problem that we face in America that isn't being solved by someone somewhere -- and that's drug abuse or illiteracy -- volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life are claiming society's problems as their own and they're making a difference. They're literally changing our country. And, of course, each of cares about these issues. The difference is volunteers take the next step. And not only do they care, they roll up their sleeves and they do something about it.

The challenge we face today, then, is getting more people to take that next step. And this is what the Philadelphia Summit On Volunteerism is all about. It's about citizens pulling together and leading by example and lifting lives.

And, Mr. President, as we all remember, you touched on this in your inaugural address on Monday. The President spoke of a new sense of responsibility and a new spirit of community. And such is our purpose today.

And I'm very pleased to join in this unique effort. Already we've got a great team coming together. I see my fellow Houstonian, Phil Carroll, over here with Shel. Shel has made a corporate-wide commitment -- I just singled him out, we could talk of others -- a corporate-wide commitment to support all five goals of the summit -- this emphasis on helping kids, young people -- through expanded employee volunteering, through targeted corporate philanthropy and promotional support.

And so many others are joining in this effort under the profoundly capable leadership of Colin, helped by Henry. And, of course, Ray Chambers, Mr. Volunteer. He really has assumed -- for me, at least -- the mantle of George Romney, who devoted the last years of his life to that, to nothing else but volunteerism.

So, Mr. President, I'm very proud to be a part of this and proud to be at your side in this noble effort. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

GENERAL POWELL: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, President Bush, Vice President Gore, and my friend of 30 years duration, Henry Cisneros. It's a great pleasure for me to be here this afternoon and to be a part of this program as the general chairman for the summit, but not only for the summit but for the follow-on program that will come after the summit. Because this isn't just one event, a flash in the pan. This is something we're going to be building on in the years ahead, so that when the turn of the century comes, the things we're talking about here today will have taken on concrete forms and we're going to see positive results from our efforts.

Americans are a caring and compassionate people. We show our compassion in many ways. We show our compassion in what we do for the members of our own family and our extended family. We show our compassion in what we expect our government to do for those of our fellow citizens who are need.

But most importantly, we show our compassion in an extraordinary way -- in the volunteer efforts of Americans around the country. We're the most generous country with respect to what we do for each other. We are a philanthropic nation. But we need to do more. We need to do a lot more. Because the need is so great. Because at this time in our nation's history, there are many people, and especially many, many young people, who are in despair, who are wondering if the American Dream is there for them, who are wondering whether anyone cares, will anyone come around to touch my life, to make my life a little better.

And the answer we give today, and the answer we will give in the summit, and the answer we will give in the years that follow is, yes, your fellow Americans care.

We're not asking for a government program. We're not looking for an appropriation. We're looking to scale up and leverage up all the wonderful programs that are underway around the country, whether it's the Boys and Girls Clubs, or Big Brothers and Big Sisters, or Children's Health Fund, or the Urban League, or all the other programs that are represented here today. We've got to scale them up; we've got to leverage them up.

Because the solution to the problems that affect our young people, and the solution to the problems that affect other of our fellow citizens who are in need is for us to do something about it. We have divides in our country of a social, economic and racial nature. Those divides must be bridged by efforts such as the one we are undertaking today. And I'm so very, very proud and honored to have been asked to play a role in this.

President Clinton and I had a conversation in the Oval Office a few years ago while I was still Chairman. And the President remarked on the quality of the young men and women in uniform that he saw as he went about his duties. And we got to musing about how we were able to do that. And in our musing we said, you know, these young men and women that we bring in from all over the country, look what we do for them. We give them a safe and secure place to be. We put structure in their life. We give them role models. We give them leaders to look up to. We give them health care. We make sure that they are taken care of. And then we ask them, in return, to give us service.

If only we could take that model and make it available to every youngster in the country. And that's what we're starting out to do today. And that will be the focus of the summit in Philadelphia.

So this is a great adventure. I look forward to it. I'd like to thank those corporations and organizations who are here present today who have already made a positive commitment. And I specially want to thank the gentlemen who have already been introduced who have been working on this effort for the last few years, and especially Ray Chambers, who I think has been the spark plug behind it all.

This is about volunteerism. This is about Americans getting off the sidelines and getting onto the playing field. This is about each and every one of us who have been blessed by the wealth of this country sharing that blessing by reaching down and reaching back and lifting up somebody in need. That's what America is all about; that's what being American is all about.

So I'm proud to be part of this effort. I am especially proud to have as the vice chair of the effort a distinguished American, Henry Cisneros. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CISNEROS: Thank you, General Powell.

Mr. President, President Bush, Vice President Gore, Mrs. Clinton, for the last four years I've had the honor of serving as President Clinton's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And from the very first conversation we had on the subject he stressed that the priority was dealing with those Americans who are homeless. After all, they are the most unhoused of Americans, and should be the priority for a department whose name begins with housing.

The President has been very strong in his insistence on work on homelessness and backing it with appropriate budgeting. But the work of the federal government in the field of homelessness is basically about budgets and distant support, because the federal government doesn't pull out one cot at night or fix one bed or prepare one meal. That work is done by people all across America --volunteers largely -- every single night. They're the ones who put the beds out as the evening settles in. They're the ones who prepare the meals. They're the ones who make the connection with the food banks. They are church volunteers opening up the basements of churches. They are people who are making available shelters when the winter sets in. These are volunteer Americans all across the country.

The federal government stands behind them as a partner, but the work is done by Americans of all ethnic groups and income groups in every community across America. And I have noted over the last four years that we've been able to make a real dent in the problem of homelessness as a result of the harnessing of this partnership.

This partnership, this principle of partnership, exists in many other fields, as has been cited here today -- in literacy work, in counseling for young people, youth work in recreational settings all across the country, in settings where there have not been for years Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts and Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs. Volunteers are doing that work and saving children's lives.

I've noted also that as many lives as are touched among those who are helped, just about as many lives are touched in those who do the work. I've seen the light in people's eyes and faces as they acknowledge the work that they, themselves, have done. I've been to Thanksgiving Day dinners for the elderly where people have stepped away from their own Thanksgiving Day lunch with their families in order to spend a few hours feeding the elderly on a day when they otherwise would have only something out of a can in a cold place. And I've seen the effect on them.

This is clearly a way in which we can multiply the sense of community and goodwill across our country and create a new mathematics -- a mathematics of two plus two equals five or six or seven as we redouble our efforts.

Erskine, it's not a mathematics that OMB approves of, but I've tried my best as Secretary of HUD to persuade that this is the way ought to budget -- (laughter) -- the housing budget.

Let me in closing say just two things. One is that this is completely in keeping with what the President said in his inaugural remarks last Monday -- that government is not the problem; government is not the solution; the American people are the solution. And as one who has served for the last four years, I have seen over and over again across the country the work of the American people at the grass roots, really making a difference in people's lives.

Finally, let me say, Mr. President, and President Bush, you selected well in selecting one of the most distinguished Americans of our time to head this effort. And I am very honored to be asked to support him and his efforts in every way that I can. I will do my best.

Thank you. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'd like to thank President Bush and General Powell and Secretary Cisneros and all the rest of you for being here; especially the members of Congress, members of the administration, the mayors and others who are here.

We are going to adjourn now and have a reception. But as we leave I'd like to just ask that we keep in mind the last point that Secretary Cisneros made. I imagine that Ray Chambers was a happy and successful man before he decided to give his whole life over to other people's welfare. But I can't imagine that he emanated the glow that he does today that we all see -- and that you see in the lives of other people who give.

And I guess -- you know, our wealth and power are very important in America and they must be maintained. But the pursuit of happiness involves more. And it really is true that in giving, we receive. So if we give a lot, we'll get a lot, and our country will enter this new century in wonderful, wonderful shape.

Thank you all and God bless you. We're adjourned. (Applause.)

3:17 P.M. EST