Jenna Bush Hager on Continuing to Honor George H.W. Bush's Legacy Through Points of Light Foundation

“He said there is no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.”

Jenna Bush Hager Headshot
Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

The late former president, George H.W. Bush, in his inaugural address in 1989 said, "I have spoken of a Thousand Points of Light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding... I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I'll ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they're not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in." This phrase would later spark the creation of The Points of Light Foundation, a non-partisan, nonprofit that honors the work of everyday Americans making their communities better places, and would become the former president's lasting legacy.

And now, two years after the death of the 41st president, the Bush family carries on that legacy and the work of the foundation. This Saturday, September 26, they will hold the second annual The George H.W. Bush Points of Light Awards Celebration, virtually. Jenna Bush Hager recently spoke with Southern Living via phone and shared what it means for her and her family to carry on with her Gampy's mission of honoring service.

"He started the Points of Light Foundation with the hope that we really realize that the fabric of our country is so ingrained with these, as he called points of light, … And he called volunteers who give themselves to make our communities better, points of light." She continued, "he started the foundation to honor these people but also really just to encourage volunteerism. And we witnessed it. He {said} there is no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others. And that really is the mission of the foundation. That we inspire and encourage others to serve."

Noting that now, more than ever, our neighbors are hurting. People have lost their jobs, their homes be it from wildfires or hurricanes or because they could no longer afford to pay the rent due to the pandemic causing mass layoffs. Now, more than ever, is a time to realize how important it is to help others and to honor those who are leading the way. Last year, the foundation and members of the Bush family held the first annual honors in a grand, in person celebration at the Intrepid. But clearly that just isn't possible right now. "Who knew how the world would change in a year? And obviously we're disappointed that we can't all be together in person. But I think everybody felt like we realized that volunteerism is more important now than ever. And that we really still needed to be together virtually in order to celebrate the people who are making our world a better place," Bush Hager said.

Now, you can join in the celebration from anywhere by tuning in virtually on Saturday night, 8PM EST. You can find out more here.

Two of this year's honorees have really struck a chord with Bush Hager. Two teenage sisters, dedicated to helping their community in so many ways, but with an emphasis on fighting hunger and homelessness. Shreyaa and Esha Venkat founded Nest4Us, and their mission as stated on their website says they are, "dedicated to providing volunteer solutions to the community to make the world better through kindness. We want to empower the next generation of compassionate youth to integrate kindness, generosity, and social good into their routine. Our goal is to create a ripple of kindness that spreads across the nation and eventually throughout the globe." Bush Hager, a twin to sister Barbara, felt a connection to these two young women and the power of sisterhood. "I know that having my sister by my side makes me braver than I ever thought possible." It's clear that these two young minds are brave and capable of many things, but it's not a common practice of a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old to attempt to solve the world's problems. "They are young girls who could say, 'well somebody else, you know, some other adult is going to take care of this problem.' Or they could say, 'this problem is huge. How can we do anything to help? 'But instead of doing that, they got to work. And I think their light shines really bright."

The Today Show host and mom of three hopes that learning more about these honorees will spark action for all of us to step forward and start helping in our own cities and towns. "I feel like there's no act that's too small." She then shared what she has been doing to help in her own community in recent months. "During the pandemic I worked with a local food bank to deliver food to kids who were used to getting some breakfast and lunch in school and now they were home and no longer in school so I would deliver food once a week to their families through a local food bank." She spoke also of how she shared the lesson of helping others with her eldest daughter, Mila. "I took Mila with me a couple times when I would deliver groceries. And I thought it was so important that she was part of it. Because there were little kids who lived a mile away from her that were hungry. Kids that needed school not only to learn but so that they could be fed," she said, adding, "I wanted Mila to meet them. To see these kids her exact age and know that unfortunately in our society, where we are born predicts so much about the outcomes of our life and that is something that I won't stand for and something that I hope she fights her whole life to make sure that we are a society that we make sure that no matter where you're born, you have the chance to create a successful, happy life for yourself and for your children."

It's clear that in her own parenting, the former First Daughter is passing on the lessons she learned from her famous parents and grandparents. She reflected again on the lessons her grandfather taught her and the rest of their family. "I think what we witnessed in my grandfather was not only him speaking about service but his actions. We watched as he gave back. But actually, some of the things he did, he never told anybody about," she recalled with a laugh.

"And I think that's also important. We serve because it's who we are. It's ingrained in the philosophy of living. Not because we need attention for it. That's what I witnessed in how he lived. And I think that's a really beautiful, humble lesson."

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