A Thousand Points of Light to Shine
President's program for involving America in community service begins in December. ENCOURAGING VOLUNTEERS
PRESIDENT BUSH'S goal of promoting a ``thousand points of light'' is beginning to shine. C. Gregg Petersmeyer, a presidential assistant, has spelled out an ambitious program to encourage ``every single person'' in the United States to participate in at least one community service.
The program will heavily involve US business, since the White House will be asking every commercial establishment to join voluntarily in efforts to find solutions for such problems as illiteracy, drop-outs, drug abuse, unwed teen pregnancy, youth delinquency and suicide, AIDS, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, and loneliness.
``We know full well that government has a critical role to play in addressing our social problems,'' says Mr. Petersmeyer. ``However, these problems can never be solved by government and [non-profit organizations] alone. From now on, each of us as individuals and each of the institutions of which we are part must begin to play a direct and consequential role in community problem-solving.''
The program, for example, will encourage:
Every credit card issuer, bank, telephone, and utility company to include with bills and statements information about how and where individuals and institutions can serve others.
Every real estate developer, building contractor, architect, and financial insitution to form consortia to build decent, affordable housing for the homeless.
Every restaurant, grocery, convenience store, and farm to make surplus food available to the hungry each day.
Every employer to include community service among factors considered in making hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions.
Every place of worship to make community service central to the life of their congregations.
The White House will be asking Congress to create and partially fund a ``Points of Light Initiative Foundation'' to manage the program. Last month the president appointed a five-person advisory committee to report by mid-December on the legislation and legal structure needed for the foundation. He will request $25 million a year for four years from Congress to operate the foundation. Matching amounts will be sought from private foundations, businesses, and other sources.
The advisory committee, headed by New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, met for the first time Oct. 30 in Washington. Petersmeyer, addressing the group, spoke of ``power flowing from the government to the people'' in the United States as it is today in Eastern Europe.
Director of the Office of National Service, Petersmeyer quotes Bush as often saying, ``From now on, any definition of a successful life must include serving others ... success is not, cannot, be measured by the sum of our possessions, but by the good we do for others.''
To get this idea across, the president's program will rely heavily on the cooperation of the media. It calls for every television and radio station, cable system, newspaper, magazine, and other media institution to promote community service ``relentlessly'' as a national ethic, spotlighting successful service initiatives, profiling outstanding community leaders and institutions, and informing the public of how to get involved in community service.
Already each of the three television networks has agreed to weave the theme of community service as a way to tackle social problems into the plots of some of their top-rated shows during three weeks in December.
The combined audience of these shows is 290 million people. At the end of the shows, viewers will be invited by the performers to call a hotline telephone number to learn where and how to volunteer to help those in need. Callers will also be able to request a volunteer handbook with written guidance. President Bush will be featured on televised public service announcements during this period, urging viewers to engage in community services.
In working out a strategy to turn Bush's campaign rhetoric about a thousand points of light into a real program, Petersmeyer says he has talked since early this year with ``hundreds and hundreds'' of individuals involved in efforts to deal with social problems, asking what was at the heart of the problems.
He was told, ``invariably,'' that those with various social problems are ``essentially good people who are free-falling through society, living lives in groups as small as families or as large as communities which had totally disintegrated around them.''
In an interview, Petersmeyer said, ``What millions of Americans need is not another government program but a set of meaningful relationships. Many people live a life of abject aloneness.'' He spoke of the need for individuals and communities to provide the support which traditional families, now often broken down, have given.
The program calls for identifying successful and promising community service projects. Knowledge of these is to be spread throughout the nation by the foundation. One means will be a ``ServNet,'' a collection of ``peer-to-peer action groups.'' Another will be a telephone hotline system and an interactive computer data base program that would permit people to learn of volunteer opportunities in their own communities. The foundation hopes to establish volunteer centers in every neighborhood.
Saatchi & Saatchi, a major advertising agency, will work with the Advertising Council on an ad campaign to encourage people to engage in community activities. Institutions will be asked to honor prominently those within their institutions doing exemplary volunteer work. The foundation itself will have an awards program.