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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.

David Eisner
Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service

April 18, 2005

Desiree Sayle
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me and David Eisner, CEO of The Corporation for National and Community Service, as we kick off National Volunteer Week on Ask The White House. David is joining via conference call from Tennessee where he is attending a AmeriCorps Best Practices Conference.

National Volunteer Week is celebrated April 17 -- 23. When the President created USA Freedom Corps, he called on every American to dedicate 4,000 hours or 2 years over the course of their lifetimes to service to others. He called on all Americans because he believes everyone can do something.

National Volunteer Week is a great week to acknowledge those volunteers who have answered the call to serve as well as encourage others to become a volunteer. We hope you will visit the USA Freedom Corps website to find a volunteer opportunity that fits your time and talents.

Ok, I'll now turn it over to David to answer your questions.

David Eisner
Great, Thank you, Desiree -- it's great to kick off National Volunteer Week on Ask The White House.

Robert, from Kansas City, MO writes:
David, I am 85-years old and retired. I am still pretty active (although my bones sometimes say otherwise) but would like to teach other seniors education classes. Whathow do you recommend I begin helping?

thanks for serving our country. And thank you Desiree for being on this chat--I always enjoy your chats

David Eisner
Robert, thanks so much for your help in kicking off our chat. Your age is not a barrier and we need your experience and leadership to solve some of America’s most pressing challenges. We have AmeriCorps and Senior Corps volunteers in their 70s and 80s – and I just learned about a 100-year old RSVP volunteer in Rhode Island who has been serving his community for the last 24 years. Studies show that seniors are especially good at making deep and meaningful connections with people in their communities, especially young people. Moreover, those studies show that seniors who volunteer are healthier and happier than those that do not volunteer. As more baby boomers retire, we have smart meaningful ways to engage them in solving the challenges facing our communities. To find a project of interest near you, just go to, type in your zip code, and see what comes up.

Janette, from Waco, Texas writes:
Would you please share some of the many academic and social benefits to students, schools and communities of our National Service Learning program? We find here in Texas that when students are participating in service their self-esteem and intellectual confidence dramatically increase, as do their state assessment test scores.

David Eisner
Yes, Janette. What you’re seeing in Texas is what we are seeing throughout the country. Studies have shown that when tied to academic standards and learning objectives -- the students who participate in service learning show greater academic achievement and a greater connection to their community. Students who participate in service learning are more likely to build social skills like communication, teamwork and problem solving and they are able to build civic skills at an early age that will last throughout their life. Keep up the good work down in Waco.

Robin, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin writes:
As a teacher, I would like to know how I can teach my high school students more about volunteering--both within our country and throughout the world. Could you please provide me with some reasources for my students? Thanks

David Eisner
Robin, first let me thank you for your service as a school teacher. I’m so pleased that you are helping teach your students about the importance of volunteer service in the classroom. There are many resources available to teachers and parents that can either compliment the curriculum or provide ideas for activities outside of the classroom.

My agency oversees a program called Learn and Serve America – which engages over 1 million students in learning that connects classroom lessons to meaningful service in their community. I would encourage you to check out the resources available on our clearinghouse at You might also find ideas in a publication that the Corporation, USA Freedom Corps and the Department of Education produced entitled Students in Service to America And finally, I was pleased to join Desiree and former Secretary of Education Rod Paige at the launch of the Freedom Corps kids website back in December --- another great resource with tips and ideas for young people, teachers and parents That should get you started – good luck!!

Walt, from Los Angeles writes:
Is volunteering going up or down in America?

David Eisner
Yes, volunteering has been going up in America for at least the past three years. In 2002, the Corporation and USA Freedom Corps worked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to devise the most thorough and rigorous survey ever conducted on volunteer rates in America. After a “baseline” finding of 59 million adult volunteers in 2002, the numbers have increased each year, to 64.5 million in 2004. We need to continue this upward momentum to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and we need to do it by encouraging more volunteering by those of all ages – students, parents and, in particular, the huge group of baby boomers who are beginning to reach retirement age.

Luis, from Oakland writes:
Do you think September 11 caused more Americans to volunteer?

David Eisner
Absolutely. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, the great generosity, compassion and patriotic spirit of the American people surfaced, with millions wanting to know what they could do to help. To answer that question, the President called on all Americans to help out their neighbors in their communities, and he created USA Freedom Corps to help them find opportunities to do so. As I noted earlier, volunteer rates have increased over the past three years, and it’s clear that one reason is because people have been looking for ways to “give back” to their nation by becoming involved in volunteer and other civic activities.

Janey, from Mt. Clemens, MI writes:
is there anyway I can become a "leader" for projects with Senior Corps? I studied geriatric nursing in college and really enjoy working with Seniors, esp. active seniors, and didn't know if I could get involved with the program even though I'm not technically a senior. thanks

David Eisner
Janey, I think it’s great that you want to apply your skills and training to working with older Americans. Many of our projects have people who assist with their organization and operation, both on a volunteer and a paid basis, and many other groups – including United Ways, Area Agencies on Aging, and AARP – also operate volunteer programs for older Americans and may also have opportunities for you to get involved. To find a senior service project of interest near Mt. Clemens, just go to, type in your Zip code, and see what comes up. Although these listings were designed for seniors who want to serve, you can also use them to find contact information to see if there are other ways for you to get involved.

Suzanne, from louisiana writes:
is your organization part of the government? I am just a bit confused because you are a CEO and that seems like it is a private sector corporation?

David Eisner
It is a bit confusing, but yes, we are government agency. Our main mission is to provide service opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds, primarily through the grants we make to local programs to support AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America participants. At the time the Corporation for National and Community Service was created, in the early 1990s, the impulse was to make government more businesslike in its operations. Part of that included calling us a Corporation – much like the name of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—and using private sector titles for our officers. We recognize that the situation has been confusing, however. And while we don’t yet have plans to change the name of the agency or the titles of the officials, we are changing our primary web domain to

John-Paul, from Columbus writes:
I feel as if lots of religious organizations encourage and are able to promote volunteering. Is it difficult to separate volunteering and religion? Or do your organizations work with religious organizations?

David Eisner
Thanks for the question. Voluntary service is both a religious concept AND one of the fundamental and defining principles of our democracy. But at the Corporation and, in fact, in all Federal agencies we have strict rules against using government funds to support volunteers who proselytize or otherwise conduct activities at odds with the U.S. Constitution. As you know, most faith-based organizations provide critically needed social services to the needy. Habitat for Humanity, for example, is provides housing for low-income Americans, and a group like Lutheran Social Services provides a whole range of services. All three of the Corporation’s main programs – AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve – provide assistance to these kinds of faith-based groups, but only to support secular activities that are fully compliant with the Constitution.

And there is one more way in which we work with faith-based and religious organizations. Because of the strong connection between religion and the impulse to serve, we know that religious congregations are a great source of volunteers to help with some of our most pressing social programs. We also know from a recent study that nonprofits that partner with religious organizations reap greater benefits from their volunteers. So participants in Corporation programs often go to religious organizations to recruit volunteers and hook them up with local nonprofits doing good work in their community. This strategy has been particularly effective in finding volunteers to lend their time and talents in such difficult but important areas as mentoring children of prisoners and helping ex-offenders re-enter society.

Tory, from Pueblo, Colorado--high school writes:
Dear Mr. Eisner,I am a senior in high school and would like to volunteer when I graduate in either the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Could you please tell me the benefits of each and which you would recommend? I appreciate you advance.

Thank you, Tory

David Eisner
Tory, first let me thank you for your desire to serve. AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are both terrific service opportunities that will open your eyes, teach you skills, provide an adventure and help you become a leader – all as you gain the satisfaction that comes from helping others. Plunging into an intensive service experience is a big decision, and I urge you to read more at or or talk to a recruiter or alum. If you are thinking about service after high school, AmeriCorps would be your best bet, since Peace Corps is usually looking for college graduates or people with advanced skills. Many young people serve in AmeriCorps during their “gap year” between high school and college and find it incredibly rewarding, both the experience itself, and because it often helps them be more focused when they start college. Good luck!

Elaine, from Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh writes:
Please give me the history of Americorps--was it started before USA Freedom Corps? thank you.

David Eisner
Yes, AmeriCorps did come before USA Freedom Corps. It was created by Congress and President Clinton in 1993, and the first class of members started serving in the fall of 1994. Since then almost 400,000 people have joined AmeriCorps. USA Freedom Corps was launched by President Bush shortly after the September 11 terror attacks in his 2002 State of the Union address. To understand AmeriCorps’ history, you need to know that it was built on the foundation of other outstanding national service initiatives that had come before – including the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, the anti-poverty VISTA program launched in 1965 and now part of AmeriCorps, and the National Service Act signed by President George H.W Bush.

Allison, from Aiken, SC writes:
First I want to say thank you to the Corporation for National and Community Service. I had the wonderful opportunity of joining the Americorps Team a few years ago and it was a great experience. So my question is: how can Americorp Alumni members stay involved and get recognized for doing so? I still volunteer and do service learning projects with youth in my community and I owe it to Americorps. I would love for others learn more about it but Aiken doesn't have a local contact. I believe Columbia SC is the closest. Is it possible to get involved some how to help spread the word about the opportuntiies that CNS offers? Thanks Again

David Eisner
Allison, thank you for your service. I’m glad you had a great experience and that you are fulfilling your AmeriCorps pledge to continue service throughout your life. There are two ways to connect to AmeriCorps alumni. First, visit the members and alumni section of our website and sign up for our AmeriCorps eCommunity. This free service allows you to find other alumni and participate in message boards and online chats. Also, Hands on Network has recently relaunched the AmeriCorps Alums organization and you may want to contact them at

Ruth, from New York writes:
David--what are some of the memorable moments you have had working with volunteers throughout the country, of people of all ages? Do you have any special stories? Thank you for sharing--Ruth

David Eisner
Great question, Ruth. One of my most memorable moments was seeing volunteers of all ages working side by side at a hectic, but deliberate pace meeting critical needs following the devastating hurricanes in Florida. I was working with volunteers in their 80’s and 90’s helping to man the receiving centers for volunteers. I also worked with service learning service students as they sorted donations. Of course the brave AmeriCorps and NCCC teams were on top of roofs affixing tarps during high winds to prevent further damage. By the end there were more than 150,000 volunteer that helped to respond to the hurricanes in Florida.

Another moving experience was two weeks ago in Philadelphia where I met a dozen senior citizens helping elementary school children do better in school through Experience Corps.

TJ, from Mrs. Power's fifth grade class writes:
do you volunteer with your family? and how do you get your kids to? My parents and I plant flowers togehter for old people.

David Eisner
Well TJ, I bet your parents are proud of you. My oldest is about 3 years younger than you, but I still think it’s important to take her to a food kitchen a couple of times a month to help prepare sandwiches for people who are hungry in the Washington, DC area. It gives us time to do something good together as a family and reflect on how fortunate we are to be able to give back.

Alyssa, from Alexandria, VA writes:
What are the long-term plans to increasemaintain the funding for necessary AmeriCorps programs?

David Eisner
Thanks. Obviously our budget is of great importance and currently we are working hard to get Congress to support the President’s request for all of our programs, including AmeriCorps. The 2006 request would fund 75,000 AmeriCorps members. I will be testifying Wednesday before the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that funds National Service.

Michael, from Alabama writes:
Mr. Eisner, I own my own business. As a fellow business leader, what would you suggest I do to get my employees more actively involved in volunteer and community service?

David Eisner
Most importantly, you should make sure you understand what really moves your employees and from there you have some incredible opportunities. One thing you shouldn’t do is reinvent the wheel. In your local community you will find Volunteer Centers, United Ways and other agencies that exist to help connect your employees with important community needs as easily and meaningfully as possible.

The first thing you can do is go to the USA Freedom Corps website at and click on the section for “Organizations and Businesses” which will provide you with best practices and ideas on everything from starting employee mentoring partnerships to designating employee volunteer days to time off for service to volunteer recognition.

It sounds like I’m preaching to the choir, Michael, but you already know that the volunteer movement can’t continue to gain speed without significant support from America’s businesses. Study after study shows that while it makes a difference in communities we’ve also seen that employee volunteerism helps the bottom line through increased employee productivity, and retention and morale.

Paul, from Minnesota writes:
Does the USA Freedom Corps work with other groups or organizations that are dedicated to volunteer service?

David Eisner
I’ve got this one David, USA Freedom Corps works with all of National Service partners like AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps, Citizen Corps, Peace Corps to federal agency volunteer initiatives like Volunteer for Prosperity and Take Pride in America to promote volunteer service. We also work with non-governmental organizations to promote volunteer service and volunteer recognition. One way we promote volunteer recognition is through the USA Freedom Corps Greeter program and the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation’s President’s Volunteer Service Award. I encourage you to visit our website to learn about our current activities, to find volunteer opportunities in your community, and to learn more about the President’s Volunteer Service award.

Dean, from Crystal Lake writes:
Mr. Eisner,Where can I go to find more information about the Corporation for National and Community Service? Thank you, for taking my question.

David Eisner
First, you should go to where you will learn about all of the Corporation's programs. These include our 3 Senior Corps programs -- RSVP, Foster Grandparents & Senior Companions; our Ameri Corps programs including VISTA & NCCC, and Learn & Serve America. On the website you will also find a list of national service field offices for each state and the Governor-appointed commissions that support national service and volunteering in each state and territory. You can also call us at 202-606-5000.

David Eisner
Desiree, I want to thank you so much for this session. It was a perfect way to get into the spirit of National Volunteer Week.

Desiree Sayle
You're welcome; David and I couldn't agree more.

David Eisner
You know, volunteering in America is so incredibly important to our society and it is such an ingrained part of who we are as a nation. Sometimes the challenging news of children and families in distress can feel overwhelming, but when we look at the difference that millions upon millions make -- and the opportunities ahead of us to do even more -- we can't help but be optimistic.

Desiree Sayle
Very nicely put. I guess our time on Ask The White House is up -- thanks again for taking the time to join us David. And to our audience, I encourage you to keep up the great work and remember what the President has said, "when Americans volunteer, our Nation is strengthened one person, one neighborhood, one community at a time." Have a great rest of the week!

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