The 2010 Presidential Citizen’s Medal

The 2010 Presidential Citizen’s Medal


The President:
Thank you very much, Senator Burris, and hello, everybody. Welcome to the White House. I want to start by recognizing
the very proud members of Congress who are joining us to
help celebrate a few of their outstanding constituents. So thank you all for coming. We are here to recognize —
and this is one of my favorite events that I do every year — we’re here to recognize winners of the Citizens Medal. This is one of the highest
honors a President can bestow. For 40 years, this medal has
been given to men and women who have “performed exemplary deeds
of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” And their lives stand as shining
examples of what it means to be an American. Today, we’ve got an opportunity
to tell their stories, to say thank you, and to offer
them a small token of our appreciation. Now, at first glance, the
honorees behind me don’t seem to have too much in common,
although I did point out that the guys are outnumbered. (laughter) Which tells you something about
who really gets stuff done in the neighborhoods. (laughter) But they are mothers and
fathers; nurses and bus drivers; veterans and immigrants. They come from different
backgrounds and they hail from every corner of our country. But what unites these citizens,
what makes them special, is the determination
they share — to right a wrong; to see
a need and then meet it; to recognize when others are
suffering and take it upon themselves to make a difference. When they saw a veteran
in need of proper care, or a teenage mom who
could use a helping hand, they didn’t just shake their
heads and keep on walking. They didn’t write it off as
another example of life not being fair. Instead, they saw it
as a problem to solve, a challenge to meet, a call
to action that they could not ignore. So, just to give a
few examples here. When Jorge Muñoz saw homeless
men gathered on a street corner with nothing to eat, he could
have rolled up his window and driven away. Instead he came home from his
job as a school bus driver and started cooking hot meals
for anyone who was hungry. These days, the “Angel of
Queens” feeds over 100 people every night, rain or shine. And Jorge says, “You
have to see their smile. That’s what I get paid.” Or, Susan Retik’s husband was
killed when his plane was flown into the World Trade
Center on September 11th. And nobody would have blamed
Susan if she had turned inward with grief or with anger. But that isn’t who she is. So instead, she and another
widow started “Beyond the 11th,” and this is a group that empowers Afghan widows affected by war and terrorism. And Susan says, “These
women are not our enemy.” So for Jorge and Susan and
the rest of today’s honorees, the words “not my
problem” don’t exist. Instead, they ask themselves,
“If I don’t help this person, who will?” They recognize that no matter
how difficult their lives may be, no matter how daunting
their own challenges may seem, someone else will always
have it harder than they do. There will always be a more
important cause to fight for. For these men and women, serving
others isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the
obvious thing to do. They may not be rich or powerful
in the traditional sense. But they believe that those of
us with a roof over our heads, with loved ones to go home to,
with food in our stomachs and strength in our limbs,
have been blessed. And in return, it’s our duty to
use those gifts to reach out to those who aren’t so lucky. And this humility and this
selflessness has always been a part of the American story. From the patriots who have worn
our nation’s uniform to everyday Americans who have marched and
fought and raised their voices to help perfect our union, it’s
no coincidence that our founding document begins with the
words “We the People.” Ours is a nation founded
on the power and freedom of individuals, but also on the
belief that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my
sister’s keeper — and that only if we look out
for one another can we all move forward together. As Lisa Nigro, another one
of today’s honorees, said, “Once you find a common
bond in your humanity, you start to see the less
fortunate as people — not ‘them’ or ‘those’ people. They are you and me.” That was the idea behind the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act — a landmark piece of legislation that I signed into law last year. And together with the work of
the Corporation of National and Community Service, as well as
the Office of Social Innovation, it’s giving more Americans the
opportunity to serve others and help address our
greatest challenges. And I want to thank Patrick
Corvington and Melody Barnes for their leadership. Because we know that real change
does not come from Washington — it comes from the grassroots;
from men and women in communities all across the
country working together to make a difference. In the end, that’s what
service is all about. It’s not about the
recognition or the awards — and it’s obviously
not about the money. (laughter) To quote George Weiss, who’s
being honored here today, “We don’t do it
for the notoriety. We do it because we
felt it has to be done.” And that’s why it is my hope
that if this award serves a purpose, it will be to inspire
more Americans to open their hearts, to strengthen
their communities, and to follow the example of
these amazing men and women who are here today. So congratulations to all of the
winners of the Citizens Medal. (applause) I’ve got some
military aides here, and one of them is going
to read the citations. And I am going to get the medals
to present to each of our honorees. With that, let’s get started. Military Aide:
The Presidential
Citizens Medal recipients: Roberta Diaz Brinton. (applause) For two decades, Roberta Diaz
Brinton has devoted her time and efforts to improving science
education for students in East Los Angeles. As Director of the University of
Southern California’s Science, Technology and Research Program,
she has opened doors for thousands of disadvantaged and
minority inner-city students through one-on-one mentoring,
hands-on learning opportunities, and college scholarships. The United States honors Roberta
Diaz Brinton for encouraging America’s next generations
to reach for the stars. (applause) Daisy M. Brooks. (applause) When a pregnant teenager with
no place to stay arrived at her door, Daisy M. Brooks welcomed the young woman and provided her with the care and
support she needed. What followed was a lifelong
commitment to helping many of northern Chicago’s young
mothers and their infants. She opened Daisy’s Resource and
Developmental Center to serve as a dormitory, school, and place
for young women to improve their lives. For offering priceless guidance
and support to young women in need, the United States
honors Daisy M. Brooks. (applause) Betty Kwan Chinn. (applause) As a child growing up in China,
Betty Kwan Chinn’s family was the victim of persecution, and
she was separated from her parents and forced to
live on the streets. As a result of the
trauma, she became mute. But when she came to America,
Betty Chinn found both her voice and her mission, aiding those
without shelter on our own shores. Every day, starting before
dawn, she loads up a truck and provides meals to the homeless
as an expression of gratitude to the nation that welcomed her. The United States honors
Betty Kwan Chinn for renewing America’s promise in
serving those in need. (applause) Cynthia M. Church. (applause) Even as she faced her own
difficult battle with cancer, Cynthia M. Church
took on a larger cause. Dismayed by the lack of
resources for women of color with breast cancer, she
founded Sisters on a Mission, an African American breast
cancer support network in Delaware. For confronting the scourge
of this terrible disease and working to halt its spread, the
United States honors Cynthia M. Church. (applause) Susan Retik Ger. (applause) After losing her husband on
September the 11th, 2001, Susan Retik became determined
to help other families who have lost loved ones to
terror and extremism. Even as she mourned her loss,
she started a program to help Afghan widows, one that now
helps women across Afghanistan to earn a sustainable income
and provide for their families. The United States honors Susan
Retik Ger for advancing women’s rights and demonstrating the
power of America’s ideals. (applause) Mary K. Hoodhood. (applause) Physical limitations have never hindered Mary K. Hoodhood’s determination to
serve her community. Though a car accident
left her paralyzed, she began volunteering to feed
the hungry through her local Meals on Wheels program. In 2001, she founded
Kids’ Food Basket, which provides meals to
thousands of children in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. The United States honors Mary
K. Hoodhood for her remarkable efforts to nourish
our nation’s children. (applause) Kimberly King McGuiness. (applause) As a parent and advocate,
Kimberly King McGuiness has been a tireless champion
for deaf students. Her letters, phone calls,
visits to state legislators, and her unflinching persistence
on behalf of her child in this cause helped spur the passage of
Georgia’s Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights. She has led workshops, counseled
parents, and changed lives, raising awareness and
support for deaf education. The United States honors
Kimberly King McGuiness for demonstrating that one citizen
can achieve for an entire community. (applause) Jorge Muñoz. (applause) Through daily acts of
selflessness and humanity, Jorge Muñoz embodies a simple
idea: that we all have a stake in one another. Each night, 365 days a year,
he and his mobile soup kitchen provide free, hot, home-cooked
meals to those who would often otherwise go hungry. For his compassionate spirit of
service and sacrifice on behalf of the less fortunate, the
United States honors Jorge Muñoz. (applause) Lisa Nigro. (applause) Lisa Nigro’s mission to aid
those living on the streets of Chicago has inspired us all. What began with a small wagon
loaded with donated food became the Inspiration Cafe, a
restaurant for homeless men and women, expanding with partner
organizations to provide housing, job training, and vital
support to Chicagoans affected by poverty. For her tireless service
to her fellow citizens, the United States
honors Lisa Nigro. (applause) MaryAnn Phillips. (applause) Caring for America’s
injured service members, MaryAnn Phillips embodies
a spirit of service and compassion. An American citizen
living in Germany, she spends countless hours
volunteering with Soldiers Angels at Landstuhl
Regional Medical Center, distributing donated supplies
and sitting at the bedsides of our wounded warriors, to care
for them, encourage them, and often to grieve with them. The United States honors MaryAnn
Phillips for putting her patriotism into action as an
angel for our troops and our nation. (applause) Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam. (applause) Devoted to preserving
America’s public lands, Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam
has inspired tens of thousands of young men and women to serve
this country by protecting its natural bounty. Her vision to create a way for
volunteers to serve in our national parks led to the birth
of the Student Conservation Association. The United States honors
Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam for helping to ensure that
America’s public lands and natural treasures are
safeguarded for future generations. (applause) Myrtle Faye Rumph. (applause) Ever since she lost her
own son two decades ago, Myrtle Faye Rumph has sought to
give at-risk youth a safe haven from gang activity, opening Al
Wooten Jr. Heritage Center in her son’s honor. Her commitment to reducing
gang and gun violence in her community has steered countless
young people off a dangerous and destructive path,
changing and saving lives. The United States honors Myrtle
Faye Rumph for creating, in the face of
violence and despair, a refuge and source of hope. (applause) George J. Weiss, Jr. (applause) For more than three decades, George J. Weiss, Jr., has helped our nation pay its final respects to the men and women who have worn its uniform. In 1979, he founded the Fort
Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad, which today comprises
more than 125 volunteers. They have performed final
military honors for more than 55,000 deceased veterans. The United States honors
George J. Weiss, Jr., for his extraordinary service to our nation’s veterans and their families. (applause) The President:
Well, you see why this is one
of my favorite ceremonies? (laughter) I want to thank all of you
for joining us to honor these remarkable people. None of them asked
for this award. They didn’t apply for it. Instead they were nominated by
the men and women all across the country whose lives
they have touched. And even though their names
may not be well-known — at least not until today — (laughter) — they are heroes to
those who need it the most. And together, they remind us
that we all have a purpose on this Earth that goes beyond our
own lives and our own individual needs. And they teach us that no
matter what challenges we face, we each have the power to make
the world a better place. So congratulations
to all of you. We are better as a country as a
consequence of your ordinary — extraordinary service. And you exemplify what it means
to be a citizen of the United States of America. We’re grateful. Thank you all for coming. (applause)

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