2007.02.28: February 28, 2007: Headlines: USA Freedom Corps: Volunteerism: Presidents - Bush: Deaprtment of State: President Bush honors fifth anniversary of USA Freedom Corps

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President Bush honors fifth anniversary of USA Freedom Corps

President Bush honors fifth anniversary of USA Freedom Corps

Volunteering is “built into the fabric of who we are,” says Desiree Sayle, director of the USA Freedom Corps, a White House initiative to expand community service throughout America. Volunteerism has expanded since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said Sayle. “The highest growth rate is for youth age 16-24, and we want to do more to encourage volunteer service within that population.”

President Bush honors fifth anniversary of USA Freedom Corps

President Bush honors fifth anniversary of USA Freedom Corps

By Louise Fenner
USINFO Staff Writer

Caption: President Bush shakes hands with a volunteers during his visit to the Anthony Bowen YMCA in Washington on February 13, 2007. Bush attended a special briefing on volunteerism at the White House before visiting the YMCA. (© AP Images)

Washington – Volunteering is “built into the fabric of who we are,” says Desiree Sayle, director of the USA Freedom Corps, a White House initiative to expand community service throughout America.

Most Americans believe “that there is an obligation, because of the freedoms that we enjoy, to give something back,” said Sayle, who noted that more than 61 million Americans volunteered for charitable and national service organizations in 2006. This includes volunteering overseas through organizations such as the Peace Corps and Volunteers for Prosperity, she told USINFO February 27.

President Bush has called on Americans to dedicate at least two years over their lifetimes, or 4,000 hours, to serving their communities. In 2002, he created the USA Freedom Corps, a national clearinghouse that matches volunteers with charities worldwide and with national service programs such as AmeriCorps.

Volunteering continues at historically high levels despite minor fluctuations, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other programs. Volunteers to the Peace Corps hit a record high in 2006, and more than 3.3 million college students engaged in volunteer activities in 2005, up 20 percent from 2002. (See related article.)

Volunteerism has expanded since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said Sayle. “The highest growth rate is for youth age 16-24, and we want to do more to encourage volunteer service within that population.”

More than 517,000 outstanding volunteers have been recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, and Bush has met personally with more than 550 of the recipients around the country, she said. “In a nutshell, the president takes volunteer service extremely seriously,” Sayle said.

Volunteerism is “a major cultural phenomenon in the U.S.,” said Arthur Brooks, associate professor of public administration and director of the nonprofit studies program at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs.

About half of all Americans participate in volunteer activities each year, including those who volunteer informally in their communities as well as the 61 million who contribute their time directly to charitable and religious organizations, he told USINFO. In addition, roughly 75 percent of Americans donate money to charity each year.

“The attitudes we have about the government and the fact that the U.S. is a very religious country … keep our giving and volunteering very strong compared with other countries,” Brooks said. Many Americans believe that “responsibility for service starts with individuals and not with government,” he said. Societies that rely more on the government for social services and are less religious have lower rates of volunteering and giving, he added. (See related article.)

“If people stopped giving and volunteering, how much would the government pick up? Probably a lot, but that’s not how we choose to govern ourselves in the U.S.,” Brooks said.

The United States is stronger and more prosperous because of its tradition of volunteerism and giving, he said. “When people give, they actually see returns in their happiness and health, and they behave more effectively as citizens. This aggregates up to the community and the national level.”

In addition to AmeriCorps, USA Freedom Corps seeks to strengthen participation in the Peace Corps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America, which helps schools incorporate community service requirements into their curricula. More and more high schools and colleges are requiring students to engage in community service, and at least 69 institutions are providing tuition aid, academic credit or other assistance to students who have served in AmeriCorps.

During the USA Freedom Corps fifth anniversary celebration February 13, Bush visited the YMCA Anthony Bowen in Washington, which was founded in 1853 as the first African-American YMCA in the United States. Volunteerism “has been an integral part of our country, and is today, and it needs to be in the future,” he said.

Ed Fones, director of volunteer services at 18 YMCA locations in metropolitan Washington, said that about 3,500 people volunteer annually at the 18 branches in Washington, Virginia and Maryland. Volunteers fill many different needs, he said, such as mentoring, coaching, assisting with day care and serving on the board of directors.

“People seem to want to help and make a difference, and help people have a brighter future,” Fones told USINFO several days after the president’s visit. He said Bush watched children make robotic arms from recycled materials and perform an “autopsy” on an old computer. Several mentors from technological professions were on hand to assist the kids and inspire them to consider careers in science.

“If you look at the history of the YMCA, volunteers have been crucial to us,” Fones said.

Without volunteers assisting charities around the country, he added, “I just don’t think federal, state or local governments could provide a lot of the resources and services that are out there now.”

Additional information is available from the Corporation for National and Community Service and USA Freedom Corps.

For more information on U.S. society, see Volunteerism & Philanthropy, “Government Encouragement of Volunteer Efforts” and the eJournal A Nation of Volunteers.

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Headlines: February, 2007; USA Freedom Corps; Presidents - Bush

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