National Conference on
Remarks as prepared for delivery by
Community Volunteering and National Service
Points of Light Foundation
Secretary Mel Martinez
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Thank you Leslie (Lenkowsky) for your generous introduction. It
is an honor to be here with all of you this afternoon.
This conference underscores the renewed sense of unity in civic
purpose, volunteerism and national service that exists today
across our country. Americans from coast to coast, and from all
walks of life, have answered the President's call to service.
Neighbors are reaching out to neighbors, youth and the elderly
are volunteering, businesses are partnering with government,
and individuals and families are lending a hand where they can
to get involved...to help tackle our nation's most
pressing social problems.
The Points of Light Foundation and your many partners are helping
assist and spotlight the myriad of ways that Americans are responding
to President Bush's challenge and the important role that
volunteering and community service play in giving everyone a
chance at the American Dream.
All of you in this room should be proud, for you are helping
build a culture of service, responsibility and goodwill in our
For those of us who serve in the Bush Administration, it's
an exciting experience. We live in an age that calls for great
courage and wisdom, as well as compassion and generosity. President
Bush is providing a model of leadership for our time.
I have come to know President Bush as a profoundly humane and
caring man. His programs are guided by his commitment to build
stronger communities and empower families. He wants every American
to have an opportunity to share fully in the benefits of our
free and prosperous society.
He has inspired the nation and the world to take up the challenge
of ending global terrorism and making our world peaceful and
secure. And his leadership in domestic affairs is just as inspired.
His vision for America ties his love of country to a commitment
to equal rights and opportunity for all.
President Bush has high goals in mind and he believes in the
spirit of our nation. Immediately following the terrorist attacks
on 9/11, he asked the American people to give more of themselves...and
you eagerly responded. Americans came together in ways possibly
not seen since the Second World War. The nation changed and we
are stronger for it. Out of that attack came heroism, honor,
and service, and a cruel, but blessed reminder of our connection-and
our need to be connected-to one another.
We all heard the heroic stories of firefighters who wrote social
security numbers on their arms and then entered burning buildings
to save others. You know of men and women who brought a plane
to the ground to ensure that others would not be harmed, probably
saving the lives of many of my colleagues who were working at
the White House at the time. You know of the Americans who traveled
from east, west, north, and south to pitch tents and shelters
to provide comfort to the victims of those attacks. But well before that fateful September day, the idea of volunteerism
was already central to the President's vision. Here is
what he said in his Inaugural Address:
"What you do is as important as anything government does.
I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to serve
your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens:
citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible
citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.
Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we
believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves.
When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program
can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand
A long time ago George Washington spoke of "friends and fellow-citizens" in
his Farewell Address. He hoped America would become "a sacred union of
citizens" who aspired to be "friends" ... bonded to each
other by love more than law.
The terrorist attacks of almost two years ago reminded us that
as citizens, we have important obligations to one another. September
11th resulted in a tremendous display of kindness, decency, generosity,
patriotism, and civic pride from the American people.
We became aware that in order to live in a free society, we
must give something back. All of us owe something to America.
And the President believes there are ways to do that -- perhaps
in the military ... or by showing some person with real acts
of kindness that you care about him or her.
To help a neighbor in need is part of a complete life. It is
how you make sure your life has a meaning larger than yourself.
One of life's greatest joys is to live a giving existence -- to
be of service to others. The desire to help those in need and
to promote the common good is basic to our national character.
And it was not long after 9/11 that President Bush issued a
timeless call to service by creating the USA Freedom Corps. In
doing so, he engaged Americans to create a culture of citizenship
and responsibility in America's communities. At the same time,
he called on all Americans to dedicate at least two years of
their lives -- the equivalent of 4,000 hours -- in
service to their communities, our country, or the world.
The idea behind President Bush's Freedom Corps is to channel
the torrent of good will and compassion that was emerging after
the attacks... to tap the deep desire to become involved
in serving others in our communities, our country, and other
nations. Widespread civic involvement can strengthen America
and uplift the world.
The challenge the President issued is significant. Research
shows that community involvement and volunteer service in the
United States had been steadily declining in recent years. Research
also showed that two of the main reasons individuals gave for
not volunteering were: 1) that they were never asked and 2) that
they did not know where to start. The President recognized this
problem and took swift and clear-cut steps to address it.
As a young boy from Cuba who was welcomed into this country
by strangers, I have seen for myself the wonderful way in which
people of compassion can be motivated to open their hearts. I
want every child, and every man and woman who reaches out a hand
in search of another, to find the same love that carried me through
the most difficult time in my life.
Since coming to America, I have been blessed with many opportunities
and I have always sought to give something back to my adoptive
country. When I began practicing law, I was the first bilingual
lawyer in the Orlando area. And so I became a person that Hispanic
families would turn to for legal advice and help with many of
their problems. Many of them, of course, had little or no money.
I helped however I could, and I received from them more than
And a number of years ago, my wife Kitty and I decided that
there was more that we could do to be of service; to lend a hand
up to a person or family in need. So we adopted a family who
had recently arrived from Vietnam as refugees from Communism -- just
I had been.
Today, my oldest son and daughter are also actively involved
in community service (say a few words about what they are doing).
Influencing another life in such a profound way brings with it
a deep sense of satisfaction that I am glad my very own children
now have the opportunity to experience first-hand.
Organizations like those represented here tonight that are founded
on service to others -- that seek to relieve a neighbor
of a heavy load -- are at the heart of civil society, and
have carried countless individuals through their most difficult
times. We are blessed to live in a land where government embraces
It is not a lack of compassion that keeps some citizens from
answering the President's call to involvement. Often
government itself stands in the way.
Governments can hand out money, but it cannot put hope in people's
hearts. It's individual persons who change one heart, one
soul, one conscience at a time. This is why President Bush has
created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
He has charged that office with lifting up this nation's
charitable service organizations and encouraging good works.
Many faith-based and community-based organizations that seek
to partner with the federal government feel excluded and discriminated
against. And they have been. But I can assure you that we are
putting an end to that form of discrimination.
The roadblocks include outright bias, arbitrary and burdensome
regulations, and general confusion regarding the separation of
church and state. Bigger and better-funded organizations have
an easier time, because their lawyers handle the legal work and
their staff do the paperwork. But these barriers prevent HUD
and other federal agencies from partnering with America's
smaller faith-based and community groups.
There have been cases where groups rooted in faith wanted to
participate in HUD funding -- until they were told they
would qualify for a grant only if they revised their mission
statement to drop out references to God.
Instead of fearing faith, government ought to embrace and encourage
the good work of faith-based and community organizations like
yours. Local charitable programs should be judged on one central
question: do they work?
Try imagining America without the secular non-profit organizations,
large and small, that work with and through community-based organizations
to meet critical social and urban needs. The Points of Light
Foundation. The American Red Cross. America's Promise. Best Friends.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Boys & Girls Clubs of
America. I could go on and on.
Both faith-based and secular community-serving organizations
rely greatly on volunteers, and, in both cases, those volunteers
are drawn largely from churches, synagogues, mosques, and other
religious institutions. We should not fear working with these
groups, whether they be community-based or faith-based, we should
HUD is taking steps immediately to break down the barriers to
faith-based groups and to partner more effectively with local
community organizations that truly understand the nature of the
problems faced by their neighbors. We are streamlining our regulations
to level the playing field and allow faith-based organizations
to compete for federal funds.
Before I conclude, let me say a few words about what the Bush
Administration and our partners in the private and non-profit
sectors are doing to increase homeownership -- especially
among minorities -- in America.
President Bush calls homeownership "a cornerstone of America," and
this Administration believes passionately in its power to transform
families, their communities, and the nation as a whole. So, for
a second straight year, the President has designated June as
National Homeownership Month. This is our opportunity to share
the homeownership message with families nationwide.
Today, a record number of Americans own their own homes, yet
a gap persists between the homeownership rates of minorities
and non-minorities. By a significant margin, African-American,
Hispanic, and Asian American families are less likely to own
their own homes.
To address this ongoing problem, President Bush announced a
year ago this month a bold plan to close that gap and create
5.5 million new minority homeowners by 2010. He issued "America's
Homeownership Challenge" to the housing industry and advocacy
groups to join the Administration in its commitment to increase
homeownership rates for minorities.
At HUD, we responded by launching the "Blueprint for the
American Dream Partnership," an unprecedented collaboration
that is creating new homeownership opportunities by harnessing
the resources of the federal government with those of the private
And, just a week ago today, we launched the HUD "Homeownership
Express," which will travel from coast to coast throughout
the month of June, taking the President's message into
neighborhoods and communities setting more families -- especially
minority families -- on the road to owning their own homes.
Our efforts to promote homeownership reflect the President's
desire to empower families. Homeownership is about more than
just finding shelter; when we empower a family through homeownership,
they have new opportunities to build a better quality of life.
Homeownership creates community stakeholders who tend to be
active in charities and churches. It inspires civic responsibility.
And possibly of greatest importance, homeownership offers children
a stable living environment that influences their personal development
in many positive ways.
Our nation has gone through a lot during the last two years.
We endured an economic recession that brought suffering to many
American families. We suffered through the horror of international
terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. And
we committed young American men and women to the battlefields
of Afghanistan and Iraq to rid the world of those looking to
do us harm. These brave soldiers have been victorious and Americans
from all across the country have reached out to support them.
The tragic events of 9/11 brought horrible evil to our country.
But I believe the Lord can bring good out of evil. These painful
events have awakened the spiritual and patriotic yearnings of
our people. Everyone has witnessed life's frailty, but
Americans now seek deeper meaning in our personal lives and greater
attachment to our families, neighborhoods, communities, churches,
To satisfy those yearnings, we need new ways of thinking and
acting. The Bush Administration is committed to tearing down
old prejudices and transforming America community by community.
Let's not allow the memory of September 11th to pass away
without embracing our responsibility for the well-being of our "friends
Thank you -- and God bless you.
Content Archived: March 16, 2010