February 28, 2005: Headlines: USA Freedom Corps: Cavalier Daily: John Bridgeland discusses role as assistant to president, advocate of volunteerism

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John Bridgeland discusses role as assistant to president, advocate of volunteerism

John Bridgeland discusses role as assistant to president, advocate of volunteerism

John Bridgeland discusses role as assistant to president, advocate of volunteerism

Mobilizing Americans toward community service
Miller Center speaker, University alumnus John Bridgeland discusses role as assistant to president, advocate of volunteerism

Katherine Sherman, Cavalier Daily Staff Writer

By Katherine Sherman Cavalier Daily Staff Writer In the 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush called on all Americans to dedicate at least two years or 4,000 hours over the course of their lifetimes to volunteer service. He put one man in charge of inspiring millions of Americans to comply with his appeal to the nation:University alumni John Bridgeland.

Bridgeland, an assistant to the president and director of the USA Freedom Corps during Bush's first presidential administration, spoke at the Miller Center of Public Affairs Feb. 25 to address civic renewal and how Americans can contribute to their nation.

September 11 was the catalyst for Bridgeland's movement of service.

"After 9/11 I was in the Oval Office about to brief the president on a domestic policy issue," Bridgeland said. "The president looked at me and said, 'Bridge, I want you to foster a culture of service, citizenship and responsibility for decades to come.' So we createdUSA Freedom Corps."

The USA Freedom Corps is a service effort that manages more than $1 billion in service initiatives. In hopes of promoting service, it connects millions of Americans to volunteer opportunities. It also works to expand organizations like the Peace Corps, Citizen Corps, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

George Gilliam, director of special programs at the Miller Center, praised Bridgeland's work.

"John Bridgeland took a conventional path to unconventional heights," Gilliam said.

Bridgeland, a Cincinnati native, attended Harvard University and went on to receive his law degree at the University Law School.

"I like it better than Harvard," Bridgeland said. "It was an intense academic experience. The Law School was really rigorous, but it's in a setting that's so relaxed -- it's a nice balance."

Bridgeland practiced corporate law in the New York and Paris offices of Davis Polk & Wardell. He then was recruited by Bush to work on his campaign. Working in close quarters with the president, Bridgeland gained both political experience and regular personal interaction with the president. He said Bush loves his job and can be very playful, challenging his staff to run faster than his six-and-a-half-minute-mile pace.

Bridgeland served as head of the Domestic Policy Council before becoming director of the Freedom Corps. He said he is more than satisfied with his career choice.

"I guess I always dreamed of doing something really interesting in government," Bridgeland said. "I can't think of anything else I would have wanted to have done than to head domestic policy and direct the Freedom Corps. I love it -- I love what I do."

Bridgeland said service has always played an important role in his life.

"People inspired me when I was young-- people like Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and others," he said. "I saw what could be done to help people who were suffering."

When he was younger, Bridgeland was involved in student government, mentoring and other activities.

"When I was in college, I mentored a 13-year-old boy who had just lost his father," he said. "I was an older brother to him."

Bridgeland said he believes this kind of service can change lives and truly makes a difference in the big picture. He also offered specific advice for students.

"I would hope that college students would find their passion, find something that they really care about and electrifies them, whether it's helping the homeless, mentoring a child, working the arts, working to save tropical forests, just something they care about, from their own life experience," Bridgeland said. "Unless it's something related to your passion, you're not as likely to do it for a long period of time. So first of all, find your passion. Second, find a specific outlet in the Charlottesville area to help somebody in need. Even if you're disinclined to do it, just go do it and see what effect it has on you. It usually changes your life in some way; you usually become a lot happier and more connected. I think they'll find social capital and reciprocity. If you help someone, that person may not help you, but somebody else will. That's how we build a common culture and common country."

In his speech at the Miller Center, Bridgeland described the state of America's civic health.

"We're on the cusp of a civic reawakening after a dramatic decline... and that reawaking has to be nurtured," he said.

Over the past 30 years, community involvement has been declining, and such a decline has had a huge impact on the country, Bridgeland explained. After September 11, however, volunteerism is a trend that is on its way to new heights.

"Disruptive events actually foster civic reawakening," he said.

It is Bridgeland's job to sustain this new culture of service. The USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network has been set up to match interest and locations with volunteer opportunities. At www.freedomcorps.gov, users can type in their zip codes and area of interest and the system will match the user with a list of possible volunteer locations.

Another program, Volunteers for Prosperity, is geared toward those with jobs that do not allow for much flexibility. Instead of having two-year programs like the Peace Corps, skilled professionals can be sent abroad for flexible periods of time through this program. Doctors and dentists can volunteer for a three-month time frame rather than for years.

"We're not going to achieve our goal without making service part of the workplace," Bridgeland said.

Companies are now making long-term institutional changes to allow employees time to volunteer. Wachovia, for example, now allows a six-day administrative leave for employees to participate in service activities.

Bridgeland echoed the president's call to service and the goal of the USA Freedom Corps.

"Every single person has a role to play, whether you're 100 years old or 6 years old, whether you're a student, whether you're a professional, whether you're working in government, working in a community," he said. "Every person should recognize that with freedom comes responsibility, with liberty comes duty, and that's supposed to be the deal."

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Cavalier Daily

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