November 26, 2002: Headlines: USA Freedom Corps: United Nations: Statement by John Bridgeland, Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps, on the Outcome of the International Year of the Volunteer

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Statement by John Bridgeland, Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps, on the Outcome of the International Year of the Volunteer

Statement by John Bridgeland, Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps, on the Outcome of the International Year of the Volunteer

Statement by John Bridgeland, Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps, on the Outcome of the International Year of the Volunteer

Statement by John Bridgeland, Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps, on the Outcome of the International Year of the Volunteer and its follow-up, in the General Assembly Plenary Session, November 26, 2002

Mr. President, Honored Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am pleased to represent the United States of America in my remarks before the United Nations General Assembly in support of volunteer service in the United States and around the globe.

I would like to thank the Points of Light Foundation and the Association of Junior Leagues International for convening and leading the United States International Year of Volunteers Steering Committee. Their organizations have provided sustained leadership to bring volunteers together to meet important community needs throughout the United States and overseas.

It is my pleasure and privilege to speak to you today as a member of President George W. Bush’s administration as Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps. Each January, the President of the United States addresses the United States Congress to report to them and to the American people on the state of the union. It is traditional for the President to present the Members of Congress and the American people with his vision for how to make that union stronger. In January 2002, President George W. Bush laid out a vision for a stronger union that was rooted firmly in the power of volunteer service to meet vital needs and to safeguard the principles of freedom. He issued a call to service to every man, woman and child in the United States to dedicate at least two years over the course of their lifetimes to service to America’s communities, to America, and to the world. He created the USA Freedom Corps, the effort I now direct, to help every American answer that call to service and to foster a culture of service, citizenship and responsibility for decades to come.

The USA Freedom Corps is a coordinating council chaired by President Bush that oversees the development of government policies that promote, enhance and support volunteer service. Among our top priorities is reforming and expanding federally-supported service programs. President Bush has pledged to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers so that by 2007 approximately 15,000 Americans will be sharing American compassion abroad. He has also challenged the Peace Corps to reach more countries around the world, and to expand its services to include important global needs such as quality housing, through partnerships with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

He has also pledged to reform and strengthen domestic programs that support service by using senior Americans and young Americans to recruit, train and supervise volunteers around the country through our Corporation for National and Community Service. And he created new programs that enable individuals to help their communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies of all kinds, including threats of terrorism. Through these new federally-supported programs, Americans are volunteering with police and fire departments, doctors and nurses are joining in a Medical Reserve Corps, and individuals are being trained to teach emergency response skills to their neighbors. These Citizen Corps volunteers will support their police officers and firefighters in times of earthquake, fire and flood, and in response to crime and terrorism.

The USA Freedom Corps is also working with community-serving organizations such as hospitals, schools, houses of worship, and other non-profit organizations that make up our volunteer infrastructure to help them recruit, train and utilize millions of volunteers across the United States to deliver vital community services. We are helping them to evaluate and to improve their capacity to effectively utilize the talents of volunteers. By supporting research, developing and disseminating best practices, and creating other resources that can be used by organizations around the country, the USA Freedom Corps will cultivate lasting changes in the voluntary sector.

With the help of organizations including the Points of Light Foundation, we have already created the USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network, the largest online clearinghouse of volunteer service opportunities ever established. Individuals can enter their postal code and their area of interest, such as serving youth, hunger and homelessness, or education, to find part-time or full-time service opportunities with more than 60,000 service organizations working in their hometowns, across the country, and in countries around the world.

Our partnerships also extend to businesses and educational institutions, and with their help we are working to create changes in human behavior that will last for decades. Leaders of American businesses have responded to President Bush’s call to service by creating the Business Strengthening America initiative to engage their employees and consumers in serving others. Member companies commit to changes in corporate practices, such as offering paid leave to their employees for volunteer service, sponsoring employee volunteer efforts, and enlisting consumers in volunteer service though their products and services.

The USA Freedom Corps is also working with the hundreds of thousands of elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities around our nation to help our youth develop habits of service that will last for a lifetime. Schools can support service by making it a part of academic lessons, or by sponsoring service activities and volunteer centers as part of the support structure for students. The United States Department of Education and other private research organizations have measured increases in youth volunteer service, and particularly school-assisted volunteer service, over the past several decades. Researchers are now looking to uncover how those who volunteer as youth behave as adults. The initial research is very promising for those who advocate investing in service opportunities for students and youth – two thirds of all adults who reported volunteering in the past year in a recent sample reported that they had also volunteered as youth. These same individuals were also significantly more likely to be engaged in philanthropic giving to nonprofit organizations.

Volunteer service also offers American educators a vital opportunity to teach students about the democratic institutions and fundamental principles that are the foundations of the United States. While the office I direct is less than one year old, its mission is part of the fabric of a long tradition of volunteer service in the United States. Volunteer-based organizations and the efforts of the volunteers who power them have played an important role in meeting the needs of urban and rural communities since our nation was founded. Yet too few of America’s students are learning about our rich history and the democratic principles and institutions that safeguard their freedoms. Through service to others, we seek to help them connect their service to communities today with the ideas and actions of the past that have helped to shape our national identity.

We also seek to reverse what has been a decline in overall volunteer service and civic participation in the United States among adults by shaping new generations that are more likely to be involved in meeting our future challenges. According to research on volunteer service and civic participation, fewer and fewer American adults have been volunteering their time and participating in civic activities over the past three decades. To accomplish our mission and to reach President Bush’s goals, the USA Freedom Corps must reverse that trend.

To measure the effectiveness of our efforts, the USA Freedom Corps has partnered with the United States Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a new national volunteer service indicator to measure volunteer behavior from a nationwide sample of more than 60,000 diverse American households. The nationwide survey will create a reliable and comprehensive measurement of volunteer behavior that will help the USA Freedom Corps and others engaged in supporting volunteer service to evaluate their impact. To date, sample sizes for evaluating volunteer service trends have been relatively small, and reliable annual comparisons have been difficult to make. This new volunteer service indicator will set a new standard for research in this field. We have collaborated with leaders in the United Kingdom and Canada on this effort, and have had productive discussions with many members of the European Union on measuring “Social Capital” and fostering civil society.

This new research and our continuing efforts through the USA Freedom Corps are a priority of President Bush’s administration, and will continue to be as long as there are human needs to be addressed through kindness and compassion. Each night in communities across the United States and around the world, children go to bed hungry or in a home that does not provide adequate shelter. Each morning people awake without clean water to drink. And each day, men and women go unprotected from or untreated for diseases and disorders that might be prevented, treated or cured. These are needs known in every community. And they are needs that must be addressed not only by governments, but also through the time and the care of volunteers.

The USA Freedom Corps will continue in its efforts to engage every man, woman and child in the United States in service to our neighbors. We hope to learn lessons from your nations about how you are cultivating volunteer service. In addition, through our efforts we might also help other nations looking for ways that their leaders and their governments can become involved in harnessing the time and talents of their people in volunteer service. We would look forward to sharing what we learn in our efforts to support research and measurement at the national level; to help establish and encourage the adoption of effective practices for using volunteers; and to make volunteer service a part of the structure and function of every school, business and community across this country. We would also welcome the opportunity to be joined by other government leaders around the world who are willing to make a call to service that resonates across their communities as it is doing in the United States now.

We can all look to the United Nations Volunteers program as a model for our own future endeavors. Since 1970, the United Nations Volunteers program has worked on issues ranging from agriculture to education. Each year, 5,000 UN volunteers from 150 countries work to improve communities around the world. They include a young woman using her time to create an online resource library for children with disabilities and their families, a man serving as a drug prevention counselor, and a woman bringing compassion and food to victims of natural disasters. Each one of these UN Volunteers is a beacon of hope.

I thank the United Nations for this opportunity to address you today to discuss the dedication and impact of millions of Americans who are improving our country and whose compassion extends beyond its boundaries. I also thank the United Nations for its support for and commitment to the United Nations Year of the Volunteers. The 123 nations that created committees to promote volunteer service are testaments to its success, but there is more to do. I hope this important discussion will be a milestone in a worldwide effort to make a difference in the lives of others through volunteer service. Each of us must continue asking ourselves what Martin Luther King, Jr. has called "Life's most persistent and urgent question”… “What are you doing for others?" Thank you.

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Story Source: United Nations

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