April 22, 1985

Thank you very much, but it's you who deserve the applause.

Today we kick off a week of activities that are honoring the spirit of voluntarism, a spirit which we can see by you gathered in this room is very much alive and still growing in America. It's no overstatement to say that America is a nation of volunteers.

I think philosophers might want to contemplate the question: Why is the freest nation on Earth also the one in which it is so common to see people from every walk of life -- rich and poor, young and old -- rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help others? Maybe it's just that we want to say thank you to the Lord who blessed our country with freedom. And the best way to do that is to care for our fellow human beings. And maybe that's why polls say that most Americans agree that no matter how big and powerful government gets and how many services it provides, it can never take the place of volunteers.

This is the fourth year that we've been giving these awards, and I thought you might be interested to hear some current news of those who've been honored in the past. Like America's volunteer spirit, their activities continue to grow, reaching out to help more and more people.

Two years ago, a group of concerned mothers received an award for their efforts to combat drunk driving. Since then, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, as they're known, has tripled in size, and now it has chapters in almost every State of the Union. I don't think there's any question that it has been largely their energy and determination there that has helped bring about a significant drop in fatalities due to drunk driving.

The Sunshine Foundation, which grants special wishes to terminally ill children, is today helping over four times as many children as when they received the award in 1982.

And Children of the Night, a program that works with teenage prostitutes in Hollywood, is now raising funds to build a permanent shelter for these children in crisis.

The Americares Foundation, which won an award last year, has sent a shipment of vitamins to Mother Theresa in India, brought several Afghan freedom fighters to the United States for medical treatment, and just recently made its first airlift of food to the Sudan.

These are just a few examples of how volunteers make a difference. But these generous people are not alone. Recently it seemed as if all of America volunteered to help feed the starving in Africa. The plight on that unfortunate continent inspired some of the most generous giving in history, with private donations from Americans topping $100 million. I guess it's true that if you tap any American deeply enough, you'll find a volunteer.

We're going to be giving out only 18 Volunteer Action Awards today and 44 citations. The difficult part was singling out those relative few from the thousands upon thousands of worthy Americans. But in honoring you, we honor them and the best in every American -- that selfless giving spirit of voluntarism, which lends a helping hand in brotherhood and neighborliness to those in need.

So, to you all, my heartfelt congratulations. And now, with the assistance of Donna Alvarado and Governor Romney, I'll have the pleasure of handing out the awards. If you will come up here.

[At this point, Donna Alvarado, Director of ACTION, announced the 1985 award recipients and read the citations accompanying the awards. Recipients included Sun City Prides, Sun City, AZ; Rev. Hezekiah David Stewart, College Station, AR; Dr. Kelsey J. Caplinger III, Little Rock, AR; the volunteer corps of the 1984 Olympic Games, Los Angeles, CA; Parents Anonymous, Torrance, CA; Delmarva Power & Light, Wilmington, DE; Amanda the Panda Volunteers, Fort Lauderdale, FL; Allstate Insurance Co., Northbrook, IL; Henrietta Aladjem, Watertown, MA; Missouri Speleological Survey, Inc., Eldon, MO; Vernon E. Falkenhain, Rolla, MO; Morris Pesin, Jersey City, NJ; Greensboro Symphony Guild, Greensboro, NC; Concerned Black Men, Philadelphia, PA; Les Cory, Tiverton, RI; Texas Youth Commission, Dallas House, Dallas, TX; National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association, Seattle, WA; and 19 unions cooperating in the Disaster Coastline Project, Washington, DC. The President then resumed speaking.]

Now, before we go, there's one more special award that I'd like to present. It's to Donna Stone Pesch, who passed away just 2 months ago at the age of 49.

In 1972 she founded the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, a volunteer organization that became a catalyst in heightening international awareness of child abuse. It's estimated that, while only 1 in 10 people were concerned with child abuse in 1972, today nearly 90 percent know about it, are aware and concerned, and want to help with this problem.

Clem Stone, would you please come up here to accept this award for your daughter, Donna. The good work that she did will live on in the organization that she founded and in the hearts and minds of the children that she helped from abuse and tragedy. Congratulations to you and yours.

I thank you all again. God bless all of you for what you continue to do. And now, I guess all I can do is what the little girl told me to do that wrote me the letter. When she finished, she said, "Now, get back over to the Oval Office and go to work.'' [Laughter]

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:13 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Former Governor George Romney of Michigan was chairman of VOLUNTEER: The National Center for Citizen Involvement.