April 10, 2002 - Stamford Advocate: Bush promotes volunteerism during Bridgeport visit with RPCV Chris Shays

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Bush promotes volunteerism during Bridgeport visit with RPCV Chris Shays

Read and comment on this story from the Stamford Advocate on President Bush's trip to Connecticut where he and RPCV Congressman Chris Shays promoted volunteerism at:

Bush promotes volunteerism during Bridgeport visit*

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Bush promotes volunteerism during Bridgeport visit

By Tobin A. Coleman Staff Writer

April 10, 2002

BRIDGEPORT -- In a call to volunteerism, President Bush told a packed house at Klein Memorial Auditorium yesterday "the government must support those who serve others" and referred to volunteers as "the armies of compassion in our neighborhoods."

Bush's Connecticut visit, hosted by U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, included a Greenwich fund-raising stop for the state Republican party and U.S. Reps. Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons. Shays attended the fund-raiser, but his campaign treasury did not benefit from the event at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich on East Putnam Avenue, on the Stamford border.

"I am thrilled the president chose to make a public statement on his strong commitment to national service and volunteerism in Bridgeport," Shays, a former Peace Corps volunteer, said in a statement. "This is an issue of great national and local importance."

In Bridgeport, Bush announced changes he is proposing for government-backed volunteer programs, including AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Senior Corps, that are being debated in Congress this week.

Among Bush's proposals are a $290 million increase in funding for the programs, which provide stipends and scholarships. He also proposed that the $4,725 AmeriCorps education grant be tax-free and include a cost-of-living adjustment.

Bush also wants to lower the age for Senior Corps participation from 60 to 55 and do away with upper income limits for participation.

State Rep. William Dyson, a New Haven Democrat and chairman of the Connecticut Commission on National and Community Service, sat in the front row in the auditorium and said he supported Bush's initiative because it builds on a theme of volunteering championed by former President Clinton. Clinton proposed and Congress approved AmeriCorps in 1993.

The president mixed his message of volunteerism with swipes at America's enemies and praise for American character in the face of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"I can't understand what went through the minds of the evil people who attacked us," Bush said. "They must have felt that we were so materialistic and self-absorbed that we wouldn't fight back."

He got a laugh when he added, "They must have thought that we would sue them."

In his 32-minute address, Bush had harsh words for terrorists, saying, "There are people who hate us. They hate what we stand for and they are killers. They use killing to support their beliefs. I'm not going to let that stand."

Before Bush's 10:40 a.m. appearance at the auditorium on Fairfield Avenue, he talked with high school students and senior citizen volunteers at the South End Community Center's Save the Children's Web of Support program several blocks away. The program includes tutoring, computer programs, cultural and recreational programs, and support groups for children.

Bush also wants to increase to 50 percent the amount of work study funding for students who are employed in community programs. He said 7 percent of the funding now goes to students who work, for example, as tutors.

AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers were in the audience at Klein Memorial Auditorium and said they thought Bush's remarks were inspiring.

"It's incredible, a lot of good news. It's wonderful," said Ilka Quade of Danbury, a participant in Danbury Children First, a parent leadership training organization.

Martha Epstein-Semega, a volunteer with the Connecticut Campus Compact at the University of Bridgeport, an educational outreach program, called Bush's words "very motivating."

"It got me believing what I'm doing with AmeriCorps. We believe this world can have some peace in it and connectivity."

Lana Perkins of Windsor, with AmeriCorps and the University of Connecticut Outreach Office, said she was "extremely pleased" that Bush wants to make the education award tax exempt. Perkins said, "It's good he came here. I like that he came to an urban area."

A small group of protesters in Bridgeport protested Bush's recent call for Israel to immediately withdraw from Palestinian areas it has recently occupied in an attempt to end a spate of suicide bombings and attacks. Jeff Benson, a Stamford resident who was among the sign-carrying protesters, said their message was "No double standard" for Israel when it comes to fighting terrorism.

"To immediately withdraw is inconsistent with his message, 'All those who harbor terrorism should be fought,' " said Benson, who also traveled to Greenwich but missed the president. "The terror we face has to be fought militarily. Israel should fight terror the way she sees fit, just like the United States is fighting terror the way we see fit."

Bush said volunteering is a good way to support the war on terror.

"If you want to fight evil, find somebody to help. I'm prepared to help you find somebody to help," Bush said.

Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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