POINTS OF LIGHT
FOR George Bush personally, voluntarism is a first principle of his patrician upbringing, from teaching Episcopal Sunday School to helping found the Midland, Texas, YMCA. As President, Mr. Bush is attempting to build a structure for spreading the virtues and rewards of volunteer service to people, especially youths, of all social classes and circumstances.
The Points of Light Foundation, unveiled by the President Thursday in New York, is at the heart of Bush's ambitions for a ``kinder, gentler'' nation. He envisions it as a $50 million-a-year networking center for finding and promoting successful local volunteer programs and encouraging people to volunteer for them.
Bush's program is destined for a lower profile than the calls to service of past presidents, such as John Kennedy's Peace Corps or Lyndon Johnson's Volunteers in Service to America. Bush's call is not for a new federal volunteer program, but to look away from government to the ``points of light'' around the country.
This initiative is also less dramatic than other calls for national service, most notably the proposal by Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia for full-time civilian or military service that is mandatory for recipients of federal student loans.
Bush's plan has been generally well received. An aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, who has proposed a volunteer service program, called it ``positive and useful.''
James Joseph, director of the Council on Foundations, noted: ``It does appear on the surface that it's a superb idea.''
However successful the Points of Light Foundation is at stirring up American voluntarism, not even its skeptics doubt its closeness to this President's core values.
White House chief of staff John Sununu even noted in April that national service could become the ``defining aspect'' of the Bush presidency.
Although the volunteer efforts should be aimed at the most pressing problems of the day, such as drug abuse and homelessness, the real benefits are intended for the volunteers themselves, according to John Galletta, a White House aide on the foundation project.