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National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, D.C.
April 4, 2001

Remarks for Laura Welch Bush at the Seventeen Volunteer Awards

As delivered.

Thank you very much, Anne.

I'm thrilled to be here for the Seventeen Volunteer Awards, and I congratulate the young women who are being recognized today.

You have the great benefit of growing up and contributing to society at a time of unlimited opportunity for women.

As you probably know, when my grandmother was your age, women didn't even have the right to vote.

Your work demonstrates to others that America's teens do care about causes greater than "self'. You are proof of that in our country today.

Your work is evidence that the answers to many of our nation's problems are found not only in the halls of Congress or our state legislatures… the answers are found in our communities.

Children and teen-agers make extraordinary volunteers. They are wellsprings of energy, enthusiasm and idealism…qualities that some of us grown-ups wish we had more of.

Sometimes we adults are astonished by the creative ways young people fill the voids in our hometowns.

Let me just stop for a moment and illustrate the point:

Here we have six young women with limited time and resources. A couple of these girls aren't even old enough to drive! They ignored obstacles, focused on their abilities, and found creative ways to do something important and lasting. And, as a result, they made a real impact in so many areas…in homes and schools, hospitals and nursing homes, in places of shelter and in disaster areas.

Six young women reached out to a broad spectrum of people and conveyed a simple, yet profound message.

That message is: "You matter to me."

Individually their work is important, but as a whole, they fulfilled a vast area of human need.

What an extraordinary combined effort. I salute each of you.

If you listen to their stories, you'll hear different reasons why they chose to help others. Some gave their time for the pure joy of giving; others, because something touched their lives and inspired them to do something helpful for someone else. Others wanted to make someone else's situation a little more bearable because their own wasn't ideal at the time.

Whatever the case, it is clear that volunteering is a unique and personal experience that often cannot be described. It's like being a member of a special club.

News correspondent Harry Smith spent years watching and interviewing volunteers from around the country. In one of his articles, he wrote that the essence of volunteerism is "… the understanding that one person's contribution, no matter how humble, does make a difference.

"It's the realization that even in life's daily travails we need each other - neighbor helping neighbor. And (volunteering) is a way to say thank you for the privilege of living in our remarkable country."

I want to thank the hosts and sponsors for their commitment to volunteerism, for supporting these young women and for letting me applaud them from up here.

Finally I hope you will continue your volunteer work. What makes your effort worthwhile is knowing that you have contributed to something important -- something that makes life more vibrant and meaningful, for yourselves and for others.

Volunteers leave a unique and indelible mark on the lives that they touch, and they make a real difference in America. Congratulations. Thank you.

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