In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush created the USA Freedom Corps to encourage a culture of public service and volunteerism. The USA Freedom Corps (USAFC) was an office located within the Executive Office of the President (EOP), and was tasked with coordinating a variety of volunteer programs and initiatives.
President George W. Bush announced the creation of the USA Freedom Corps in his 2002 State of the Union address.
“My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years -- 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime -- to the service of your neighbors and your nation. (Applause.) Many are already serving, and I thank you. If you aren't sure how to help, I've got a good place to start. To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps. The Freedom Corps will focus on three areas of need: responding in case of crisis at home; rebuilding our communities; and extending American compassion throughout the world.” President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002
The USA Freedom Corps oversaw the creation of an online database for volunteer opportunities known as the Volunteer Network. Potential volunteers used the database to identify positions that matched their skills and interests.
They also coordinated with volunteer service liaisons throughout the Federal government, and with volunteer-specific agencies such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). CNCS oversaw AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, which offered domestic service opportunities. FEMA oversaw Citizen Corps, which encouraged individuals to assist with disaster relief.
USA Freedom Corps and its partners raised awareness of volunteer opportunities, from short-term opportunities like the Martin Luther King Day of Service, to long-term opportunities like the Peace Corps.
President George W. Bush welcomes Linda Uehara of Mililani, Hawaii, to the stage in the East Room of the White House, to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award on May 10, 2007 in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
The USA Freedom Corps also coordinated recognition opportunities for outstanding volunteers. One of these opportunities was the President’s Volunteer Service Award. In 2003, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation recommended the creation of a service award to recognize exceptional volunteers.
These service awards continue today, but are now distributed through Americorps in partnership with the Points of Light Foundation. The award levels are bronze, silver, and gold, and are based upon a person’s hours of service. There is also a Lifetime Achievement Award for individuals with 4,000 hours of service.
Exceptional volunteers were invited by the White House to participate in a Presidential Greeter program. These Greeters would meet President George W. Bush at the airport when he made official trips across the country. In addition to greeting the President, the volunteer being recognized would also receive a photograph with the President and a Volunteer Service Award.
Although the USA Freedom Corps office was dissolved by subsequent Presidents, volunteer service initiatives live on. Congress made September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance in the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,” which President Barack Obama signed in 2009.
Navy cotton baseball cap, embroidered "USA Freedom Corps." (DO.377635)
Today, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps provide opportunities for Americans to serve. Individuals can commit to months of service, either domestically or abroad, or on specific days of service, such as Martin Luther King Day or September 11. The President’s Volunteer Service Award still recognizes extraordinary volunteer service.