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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

John Bridgeland
December 19, 2003

John Bridgeland
Good Morning. I am excited to be here and to answer your questions about the President's Call to Service and the USA Freedom Corps. Let's get started!

Tom, from Springfield, MO writes:
Mr. Bridgeland, I would like to commend you on the job you do, this is an extremely important role in the push to motivate compassionate citizens. My question - Do other countries have similar programs and if not, have other governments shown interest in ours?

Thank you.

John Bridgeland
Thanks for your good question, Tom. Increasingly, other countries are looking to strengthen their civil society and more directly engage citizens in meeting social needs. Because of America’s long tradition of citizen service, many other countries are seeking to learn from our experience. We also are learning interesting things from them.

We have had excellent conversations with officials from Great Britain, Denmark, Brazil, Japan and other countries. Many countries have been very interested in the USA Freedom Corps model – creating an office and council at senior levels in government to provide strong leadership and coordinate policy on citizen service issues, and to provide resources to connect citizens with specific service opportunities in local communities, and through national and international service programs.

Seventy-one countries today also have an understanding of America’s volunteer spirit through the Peace Corps. President Bush proposed to expand the Peace Corps in his 2002 State of the Union. The Peace Corps now has the highest number of volunteers in 28 years.

Because there was so much interest from Americans in serving abroad, the President also created “Volunteers for Prosperity,” which provides skilled American professionals opportunities to volunteer for short-term assignments in developing countries. Currently, more than 100 private voluntary organizations are part of this effort to recruit Americans to help work on HIV/AIDS, Water for the Poor, and other initiatives to help people in developing countries.

To learn more about these efforts, please take a look at our website at

alex, from vermont writes:
Which President pioneered the idea for fostering public service in America? How has President Bush followed in these ideals?

Thank you.

John Bridgeland
Thanks, Alex for your interesting question. I had my staff research this same question before we started the USA Freedom Corps and discovered that many Presidents dating back to George Washington had important and inspiring things to say about fostering an ethic of service in the country.

President Bush issued a call to service and asked every American to give two years over their lives in service to their communities and country. He created the USA Freedom Corps to connect millions of Americans to service opportunities, which you can find through the USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network at, and to strengthen federally-supported service programs such as the Peace Corps, the new Citizen Corps, AmeriCorps, and Senior Corps.

Jacob, from Rancho Cucamonga, California writes:
What is the USA Freedom Corps Director? What do you do?

John Bridgeland
Thanks, Jacob. I lead the USA Freedom Corps, which is a White House office and council that coordinates volunteer and public service policy for the President and works to connect Americans to a culture of service.

My days are pretty interesting. I give a lot of speeches around the country and get to meet with amazing Americans who are mentoring kids, working in soup kitchens, building homes, cleaning parks, or taking one or more years of their lives to serve across America or in countries around the world. Everyone asks the same question, “what more can I do for America?”

I also have the pleasure of meeting with the President and his staff to discuss how we can strengthen our country and keep the spirit of service and patriotism that emerged in full force after 9/11 alive for years to come.

august, from portland writes:
john, what can american citizens do to keep our country safe from those who work against what our nation stands for? thanks.

John Bridgeland
Great question, August. We asked the same question before we created USA Freedom Corps.

We created an initiative called Citizen Corps, which engages citizens in community-based efforts, supported by the federal government, to help protect the homeland and prepare for emergencies of all kinds. The initiative has taken off and has already met the goals the President set for this program. Today, we have 900 Citizen Corps Councils in 51 states and territories that are helping to coordinate citizen and emergency preparedness efforts at the local level. We have doubled the number of Neighborhood Watch programs in the country from 7,500 to 15,000; created a new Medical Reserve Corps that is enlisting doctors and nurses in 170 communities across America; more than tripled the capacity of Community Emergency Response Team training; and increased by 900 percent the number of Volunteer in Police Service Programs, growing from 76 to more than 715 programs nationwide that enlist 38,000 volunteers to help our police departments.

You could volunteer for one of these efforts in your local community. Please go to and look for Citizen Corps. There is a Citizen Corps effort in Multnomah County there in Portland.

Heather, from New Jersey writes:
Hi I am 15 and would like to know how i can help the freedom corps.

John Bridgeland
Hi, Heather. Thanks for your question and interest in service at an early age.

Do you know that earlier this week, an important survey came out showing that the greatest increase in volunteer service over the last year is among teenagers! That is really important because if we can engage young people like you in service early on, we can have an entire generation that will be committed to giving back for 50 years.

You can help Freedom Corps by asking your school principal or teacher to participate in the new President’s Volunteer Service Award program, and to get your entire school to perform at least 50 hours of volunteer service in a year (for those 14 and under) and 100 hours of volunteer service (for 15 and above) to earn the award. You get a nice letter from the President and a certificate from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, that is chaired by Darrell Green, the former All-Pro football player, and by Senators Bob Dole and John Glenn. You will be encouraging your entire school to join the culture of service, every year, by doing their 50 or 100 hours of service. Good luck.

Ray, from Tampa, FL writes:
How many people have volunteered through USA Freedom Corps? Has the program helped substantially toward meeting the needs of organizations for volunteers?

John Bridgeland
Millions of Americans are responding to the President’s Call to Service and finding service opportunities through USA Freedom Corps and the many programs it is strengthening. More than 5 million Americans have visited our website and more than one million have completed searches. Go to the site, enter your zip code and area of interest, and you’ll find many service opportunities locally.

The President has also achieved the following to strengthen service programs:

Peace Corps has now grown to the highest level of volunteers in 28 years; the new Citizen Corps he created has 900 Citizen Corps Councils in 51 states and territories and has doubled Neighborhood Watch, tripled Community Emergency Response Team training, created a new Medical Reserve Corps in 170 communities; and increased Volunteer in Police Service programs from 76 to more than 715 programs. In an Omnibus spending bill recently passed by the House, AmeriCorps is slated to receive the largest funding in its history so that 75,000 Americans can give a year of service to the Nation, and Senior Corps is enlisting tens of thousands of additional seniors to help tutor and mentor children and bring hot meals to their senior companions. We also have 200,000 volunteers helping to strengthen our public lands and national parks through Take Pride in America. The President also proposed a $450 million mentoring initiative that will support organizations matching mentors with more than one million disadvantaged children, including 100,000 children of prisoners.

Best of luck to you, and serve!

Robby, from Chico, California writes:
What are you hopes for Freedom Corps in the new year? Happy New Year to the White House

John Bridgeland
Thanks, Robby, for your nice question.

My hopes for USA Freedom Corps in the New Year are that more Americans continue to serve their communities and country and respond to the President’s call to service.

Specifically, I want to see all of the national and international service programs remain on track to meet the President’s ambitious goals and want to thank the leaders in Congress for their terrific support in the Omnibus bill and other appropriations bills that will make this happen for great programs such as Citizen Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Peace Corps, Learn and Serve America, and the President’s Mentoring Initiative.

I also hope that more Americans will sign up to earn the President’s Volunteer Service Award by performing 50 or 100 hours of volunteer service in a given year. Currently, there are 1,400 certifying organizations that are giving out thousands of awards to Americans for their service to communities and the country.

I also hope that the number of businesses in America, currently numbering more than 730, will join Business Strengthening America, to enlist their employees in regular service activities. These efforts are opening many opportunities for people to serve through the workplace. Since lack of time and the demands of the workplace are the biggest barriers to volunteer service, this is a really important initiative.

Finally, I hope you have a Happy New Year as well, and I will pass along your good wishes to other people here at the White House.

Linda, from Colorado Springs writes:
Do have the opportunity to participate in service activities yourself? If so, which ones?

John Bridgeland
Yes, Linda, I do. It’s one of the best parts of the job.

I often take my children with me. My 13 year old daughter and I built a playground together, my younger kids and I worked in a soup kitchen together, and recently, on Make A Difference Day, my daughter and I joined Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and 300 other committed volunteers in cleaning up an island on the banks of the Anacostia River.

Since my parents were so engaged in volunteer and public service, I have always had the good example and have tried to serve. But this job has actually reinforced even more the importance of service to the country and how we must do it regularly, no matter how busy we are.

This Christmas, I plan to take my wife and children to a soup kitchen to make and serve meals to those in need. There could be no better gift at Christmas than teaching my kids to give of themselves to others.

Cee Cee, from Washington, DC writes:
John It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with you over the last couple of years. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement. You continue to be an inspiration.

I guess the obvious question is "What's in store now for John Bridgeland?", but I'd also like to ask "What's in store now for Freedom Corps?".

Best wishes to you, John. And Happy Holidays.

Cee Cee

John Bridgeland
Thanks, Cee Cee. You have done a great job serving the country and it has been a pleasure to serve by your side.

The USA Freedom Corps is a presidential priority and the President has met with and recognized more than 240 outstanding volunteers in 41 states to thank them for their service and dedication to the country. He is inspired by these people and the response to his Call to Service has been very strong.

We are on track to meet the President's key service goals and we need to continue to work hard to enable and encourage even more Americans to serve. Earlier this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a survey showing that from September 2002 to September 2003, more than 63 million Americans were volunteering, a signficant increase over the preceding year, which included a surge in volunteerism after 9/11. This is a really hopeful sign for the country that not only are we sustaining the culture of service, we are increasing it.

Ersa, from Manila writes:
Hi Sir With the nature of your work, what are you doing to vere away from stress? Do you engage into any sport? Happy Holidays

John Bridgeland
Thanks for your question, Ersa. Probably not enough. But, I do work out three times a week -- mostly running and playing tennis.

I also like to read to my kids and see an occasional movie.

Thanks for caring and Happy Holidays to you.

toni, from redmond, washington writes:
I know President Bush is the busiest man on the planet, but does he ever get to volunteer? Are there any volunteer programs that he feels very passionate about?

John Bridgeland
Yes, Toni. He loves to volunteer and has both engaged in volunteer service himself and highlights volunteer service efforts almost every week as he travels around the country. He has helped construct homes with Habitat for Humanity, worked with volunteers to help maintain trails, read to children, and packaged groceries at the Capitol Area Food Bank here in Washington, D.C. Having served as Governor of Texas and now President of the United States, he also has been very committed to public service.

He is continually moved by the compassionate character of so many Americans who give of themselves every day to help people who are suffering and need a helping hand.

anita, from silver springs, maryland writes:
Hello. A question from an American mother. What are good ways for families to volunteer?

John Bridgeland
Great question, Anita. I'm often asking that question myself.

The USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network provides volunteer opportunities in your local community for families. Enter your zip code and area of interest and you'll find great service opportunities that describe the activity and whether it is a good activity for children and families. Some resources, such as DC Cares, provide a great book that break down volunteer service activities by age. I have used this myself to find opportunities that can include my 5 year old son.

Working in soup kitchens, park clean-ups, and other family friendly service activities are great ways to spend the holidays. Best of luck.

Caleb, from Crawfordsville,IN writes:
Hi. It is my pleasure to send this to you. I believe the Freedom Corps is a great thing. This helps every American get involved in making America not only a better looking place, but it helps America become a better place to live. As director I would like to know what your responsibilities are and how often do you talk to the President about the Freedom Corps? Thank you and have a happy and safe holiday season.

John Bridgeland
Thanks, Caleb.

As director, I run the USA Freedom Corps and report to the President on his ambitious service agenda. The President loves the USA Freedom Corps, because it inspires Americans to serve a greater cause that helps others and strengthens our country. He greets people all across America who are setting a great example of service and sacrifice. I talk to the President regularly about USA Freedom Corps and had the opportunity to brief him on our progress this week.

Thanks, and Happy Holidays.

Jason, from Clovis,California writes:
Does the Freedom Corps help out in Irq.

John Bridgeland
Thanks, Jason.

USA Freedom Corps partnered with the Department of Defense to spearhead an initiative called, "On the Homefront." Millions of Americans have sent thank you cards, emails, and care packages to our troops; Americans have volunteered to help with child care, repairing homes, and other needs of our military families here at home. The outpouring to support our troops and their families continues to be strong and shows how grateful our Nation is to those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect freedom. For more information on how you can participate in "On the Homefront," please go to

Will, from NYC writes:
I'm 21 years old and wondering...what is the trend for public service in America? How has it changed from my parents and grandparents generation to mine?

John Bridgeland
Great question, Will.

Robert Putnam has catalogued a 30 year decline in volunteer service and civic engagement in America in his book, Bowling Alone.

Much has been written about the "Greatest Generation" and their tremendous contributions to the country, through volunteer, public and other service to our Nation.

September 11, 2001 was a unique moment in history, in which Americans showed a spirit of service, sacrifice and patriotism that we hope will last. The President issued his Call and created USA Freedom Corps to "foster a culture of service, citizenship and responsibility" for years to come.

We are trying to reverse the trends of the last 30 years and ensure that this and future generations of Americans are increasingly committed to serving their communities and country.

John Bridgeland
Thank you for your interest in USA Freedom Corps and for your outstanding questions. Many of you are already part of the culture of service, and I would ask that you continue to serve. For those who want to get more involved in serving in your local communities, or finding service opportunities across the country and in countries around the world, please contact Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

John Bridgeland Director USA Freedom Corps

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