Local News

Bush Urges Volunteerism Through Proposed USA Freedom Corps

Posted January 30, 2002 5:58 a.m. EST

— President Bush appealed Wednesday for Americans to do their part against terrorism by volunteering in their communities.

"If people want to fight terror, do something kind for a neighbor," he said.

The president kicked off a two-day swing through three Southern states by promoting his $560 million proposal for a USA Freedom Corps, which would serve as an outlet for Americans who want to contribute to the anti-terror effort but don't really know how to get started. He announced the idea in his State of the Union speech.

Bush urged a crowd of roughly 6,000 people at an arena here to get involved in their communities, especially if they possess skills that can be valuable in a crisis. He suggested that they call a toll-free number - 1-877-USA-CORPS - for more information.

"Make yourself available to be a part of your emergency response teams," he said. "Stand up to evil with acts of goodness and kindness. We will show the world that universal values must be respected. History has called us to action, and action we will take."

Bush greeted local dignitaries who met Air Force One here, then waited at the door of his limo while Sen. Jesse Helms, who flew here with Bush, made his way down the steps to shake a few hands himself.

They then went to the Center for Community Safety to meet with "first responders" - police, firefighters, emergency medical teams - who are on the front lines when disaster strikes. He praised their efforts to come up with their own local defense strategy.

"Your community will be strong before and afterwards," he said. "There will be a better health care system afterwards, safer neighborhoods afterwards."

Later Wednesday, Bush was traveling on to Florida for his sixth visit since he took office, to participate in a town hall meeting in Daytona Beach. On Thursday he goes to Atlanta to promote the Teach for America program at Booker T. Washington high school, where Martin Luther King Jr. once studied.

Bush envisions three elements to the USA Freedom Corps. One is a "citizen corps" that would mobilize people to perform duties in their communities based on their skills, such as medical care, or augment police services through neighborhood watch efforts. The Justice Department would work with existing neighborhood watch programs to double their number over the next two years and incorporate terrorism prevention into their procedures.

Bush also calls for expanding the current AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs to bring in 125,000 new volunteers, and bringing Peace Corps participation back to levels near its all-time high of 15,000 in June 1966. The goal, the White House said, is for those new volunteers to attract another 75,000 volunteers.

The president is seeking $560 million for these efforts in his fiscal 2003 budget. He wants Americans to pledge to spend 4,000 hours over their lifetimes to doing good deeds for others.

The Freedom Corps would be guided by a council and a White House director who would report directly to Bush with recommendations on improving services and helping recruit volunteers. The president would chair the council.