KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Three decades after it was ridiculed and became a punchline on late-night television, former President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light concept is still going strong to the surprise of some, including President Donald Trump.
The phrase, aimed at promoting the former president’s vision of volunteerism, was transformed into Point of Light awards given to more than 6,000 individuals and the foundation Points of Light, which promotes volunteerism in 37 countries. This week, Bush, 94, hopes to greet board members and corporate partners during a three-day event that begins Tuesday in Kennebunkport, Maine.
“Points of light” originated in Bush’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1988. He later likened volunteerism to “a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”
The media, including comedian Dana Carvey, lampooned the phrase. Bush was undeterred, repeating it in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses. He began a daily Point of Light award in 1990, and the foundation expanded the president’s vision.
A decade ago, the Points of Light Foundation and HandsOn Network merged to strengthen efforts to encourage volunteerism at the corporate, nonprofit and individual level. Today, there are more than 5 million volunteers.
The phrase never sat well with Trump, apparently.
“Thousand Points of Light. I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out?” Trump asked a crowd this summer in Montana.
Neil Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, chose not to respond to Trump’s biting remarks.
The chairman of the foundation’s board, Neil Bush said he’s glad his father’s “vision” continues to grow and “will have an influence on many, many lives.”
On Tuesday, the 6,341st “Daily Point of Light” will be presented by Neil Bush to Kathy Hecht, whose “Salute of Service” helps disabled veterans train their own dogs to become service animals to help themselves. If they don’t have a dog, then the group will help them find one.
Hecht, of Searsport, Maine, said she was stunned by the recognition.
“We’re such a small organization that was I surprised that we ended up on anyone’s radar,” she said, adding that “to end up getting this award is just wonderful beyond words.”
The group has helped more than 150 veterans over the past four years.
The Points of Light Foundation’s marching orders come from Bush’s words.
“The solution to each problem that confronts us begins with an individual who steps forward and says, ‘I can help,’” said Natalye Paquin, the foundation’s chief executive officer.
Atlanta-based Points of Light bills itself as the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. Much of its work focuses on working with corporations like Starbucks to encourage their employees to volunteer in local communities.
Last month, Starbucks announced a pilot program in which some employees will work 20 hours and volunteer for 20 hours each week in 13 cities.
As for the former president, Bush wrote in a letter that was later published in his 2014 book “All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings” that some of his happiness comes from being a point of light.
“I believe I was right when I said, as president, there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others,” he wrote.
The daily Point of Light recipients get a certificate with Bush’s signature, though Bush is no longer actively involved. He’s spending this summer recovering from health problems and the loss of his wife, Barbara, who died in April. But he’s still passionate about the cause.
“He’s a frail, loving, thoughtful old man,” Neil Bush said. “He clearly cares deeply for this mission. If you were to talk to him, he’d express that.”
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