WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama welcomed President George H.W. Bush to the White House on Monday in a salute to public service and to the drive for volunteerism that the 41st president inspired with his "thousand points of light" initiative more than two decades ago.
"We are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you," Obama told the elder Bush, who sat in a room filled with his friends and former aides.
The first President Bush — "41," he often calls himself — came to attend a ceremony Obama was holding to recognize the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award. The award's name comes from the description in his 1989 inaugural address of Americans serving each other as "a thousand points of light."
Thanks to Bush, Obama said, "volunteerism has gone from something that some people do some of the time to something that lots of people do as a regular part of their lives."
Bush responded briefly, thanking the Obamas for their "wonderful hospitality," and leaving his son Neil Bush to offer more extended remarks.
In addition to Neil Bush, the former president was joined by his wife, Barbara, the former first lady; and Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light organization and a possible Democratic Senate candidate from Georgia. She's the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.
President George W. Bush, the 41st president's son, did not attend.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and the Bushes had lunch in the Red Room before the ceremony.
Obama announced creation of a federal task force to come up with new ways for the public and private sectors to collaborate to support national service as a means of tackling national priorities.
In the past year, the Corporation for National and Community Service, sponsor of the AmeriCorps national service program, launched partnerships with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Education Department. The 1,600-member FEMA Corps has the sole mission of responding to disasters. School Turnaround AmeriCorps will send 650 volunteers into low-performing schools this fall to help improve academic achievement, attendance, high school graduation rates, and college and career readiness.
Both presidents share a commitment to volunteerism and service.
Bush, 89, established the Daily Point of Light Award in 1990 while in office. More than 1,000 of the awards were distributed between 1989 and 1993, Bush's single term as the nation's 41st president. Through its offices around the country and relationships with nonprofit groups and corporations, the Points of Light organization encourages millions of people to volunteer and recognizes those it says are making a difference.
The recipients of the 5,000th Point of Light Award were Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, a retired couple and farm owners from Union, Iowa, who created Outreach, a nonprofit organization that delivers free meals to children suffering from hunger in more than 15 countries, including the United States.
They launched the program after a trip to Tanzania, where they visited a volunteer mission to help renovate an HIV/AIDS clinic at a village hospital and saw children dying from malnutrition. The couple's program has relied on thousands of volunteers to help assemble and distribute more than 232 million free meals to children worldwide, the White House said.
President Barack Obama says the U.S. is a better and stronger force for good in the world thanks to the tradition of volunteerism nurtured by former President George H.W. Bush.
Obama says Bush's efforts in the White House and beyond sparked a national movement. He says the U.S. is kinder and gentler thanks to Bush.
Obama says the tradition may seem ordinary, but actually represents tremendous process. He says because of the Republican former president, community service has become a prevalent part of American life.
Obama spoke Monday at a White House ceremony recognizing the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award, granted to a retired couple that created a nonprofit to feed hungry children in 15 countries. Bush created the award more than two decades ago to honor volunteer service.