Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush Join to Honor the 5,000th Daily Point of Light

Print Share on LinkedIn More

Obama and Bush

July 15, 2013; CBS News


In the ambience of the White House’s event recognizing the 5,000th Points of Light award, the bipartisanship was impossible to miss. Following kind words toward President George W. Bush for his longstanding position in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, President Barack Obama lauded the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, for his role in creating the Points of Light program. Started 24 years ago, the daily Points of Light awards have continued through subsequent presidents, including Obama, to recognize the importance of volunteerism.

The recipients of award number 5000, Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, were recognized for creating a nonprofit called Outreach, described in most of the press coverage as a nonprofit created by two retired Iowans to deliver free meals to children in the U.S. and 14 other countries. On Outreach’s website, the program description is much more interesting. It appears that Outreach focuses part of its operations substantially in the Singida region of Tanzania, where 900 women have received microfinance loans to establish a basket-making cottage industry. Outreach purchases their baskets, which are then shipped to the U.S. and provided to U.S. nonprofits or churches for sale on consignment. Contributions to Outreach (contributors all receive a gift basket) and income from the basket sales above the initial purchase and distribution costs are used by Outreach to provide food, water, and medical care to needy children. The organization’s website also includes sales of other handcrafted pieces such as jewelry, woodcarvings, and clothing.

The Points of Light award materials and President Obama’s statements emphasized volunteerism, but Outreach is much more complicated than a simple volunteer program. In 2011, its total revenues reached $6.1 million, including $5.25 million in contributions and more than $800,000 in sales. Still a small nonprofit by the numbers, Outreach has grown significantly from total revenues of $877,000 in 2007.

Unlike many service nonprofits, Outreach’s Form 990s from 2005 through 2011 show no receipt of government funding. That may be implicitly what is being honored by the three presidents: a nonprofit service organization that doesn’t seek government funding. Points of Light was created by the now 89-year-old former president to honor volunteer service, but much of the work of the nonprofit service sector relies on more than volunteer labor and, unlike Outreach, has to turn to government for funding support to reach people in need.

That may be the arena for bipartisanship, as Barack Obama tries to find allies among Republicans. In light of the Tea Partiers stopping pieces of the Obama agenda in Congress, the two President Bushes look like reasonable, moderate GOP standard-bearers. For President Obama, honoring the first President Bush for his support of volunteerism and community service is about as uncontroversial an activity possible in the current political milieu. That’s fine, but let’s not get confused by the notion of completely donation-funded nonprofits as somehow preferable to nonprofits that seek and deploy government funding for their services to the poor.—Rick Cohen

  • Paula J. Beugen

    This bipartisan celebration is to be applauded!

    At the same time, even more concrete recognition of a variety of forms of community engagement is desperately needed.

    More balance in public, private and nonprofit financial support for volunteerism, service-learning and national service is essential to a healthy democracy and a thriving America. The President’s 2014 budget for the Corporation for National and Community Service does not reflect the needed balance and the US Senate and US House are far apart on related issues. The resulting implications and downside are deserving of much more discussion.

    Leadership needs to come from the ground up as well as from the top down. It is time for a White House forum and US Senate and US House field hearings to learn directly from local volunteerism, volunteer resources and service-learning leaders — who work in the field on a daily basis — about genuine needs and opportunities in the field. Participants should be from a range of organization types and budget sizes.

  • TT

    I think you are a bit confused “by the notion of completely donation-funded nonprofits as somehow preferable to nonprofits that seek and deploy government funding for their services to the poor.” Did you do any research on the other 4,999 recipients of this award or on what the award actually stands for? The DAILY Point of Light Award clebrates “the power of the individual to spark change and improve the world.” The Hamiltion’s are doing exactly that. They committed to a mission and have seen great success with it. This has nothing to do with revenue sources and everything to do with helping people realize that they have the ability to change the world through service to others.

  • Paula J. Beugen

    Here is more about why I am advocating for a White House forum and US Senate and US House field hearings as described in my earlier comments:

    The bipartisan celebration of the 5,000th Point of Light Award at the White House, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service Impact Awards and the various impressive youth service, youth leadership and service-learning awards are to be applauded!

    The 5,000 Points of Light award recipients have made amazing contributions and are deserving of their great honor as are the recipients of the other mentioned awards. They provide examples and inspiration for others about the importance of a range of forms and areas of service to our communities, nation and world. I have been following these-type awards over time and deeply appreciate them.

    While our leaders celebrate many forms of community engagement — the necessary investments in these areas by the public, private and nonprofit sectors are inadequate and in some important ways lopsided. We need to invest in and grow many forms of service — whether the service is government sponsored, or through the private or nonprofit sector. And, service directly initiated and sponsored by individuals is enormously important too.

    In a healthy democracy people of a variety of ideas, philosophies and approaches should be able to contribute to the well-being of the community in the way that is most meaningful and works the best for them. I believe there is a lack of current capacity to absorb for high impact all of those who would and could serve in one or more of these ways. In addition to AmeriCorps members helping to coordinate volunteers, other infrastructure investments are needed to build up the capacity for sustained and deepened service to the community. Think about the return-on-investment and results fuller, high quality engagement would bring.

    As is much discussed these days —service should not be a partisan issue. One form of service is not better or more important that the other. All are needed. For example, among other forms of service, I am a supporter of national service, volunteerism and service-learning. Unfortunately, the dollars for the latter two forms of service have been slashed or have been very, very small in recent years and do not, in my opinion, reflect the intent of the Serve America Act or the collective values of our nation. These losses or lack of substantive combined-investments have had consequences for many.

    Our leaders need to hear the implications of this imbalance and the opportunities that would be afforded with greater and more balanced investments. And, a full range of paid and unpaid leaders need to be directly involved in these important conversations — which will have much to do with the long-term shape of our society.

    Of course, Americans have the opportunity to share our views and “tell our story” for example through the media or by contacting our elected officials. Still, when it comes to incorporating perspectives into design processes and funding priorities — my observation is that we need broader participation. And, we need more than a singular approach when it comes to designing ways people can serve our country.

    I have seen how the imbalance in investments has had consequences for people and communities, including for attaining our national priorities. Let’s grow national service, volunteerism and service-learning in a balanced (not necessarily identical) way and celebrate all of the wonderful people who are strengthening our communities, nation and world – or who would like to do so in the way that works best for them at their given stage of life and according to their circumstances!