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Obama toasts Bush: 'We are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you'

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In a rare and warm appearance, former President George H.W. Bush returned to the White House on Monday. The 89-year-old was there to hand out the 5,000th award from his "Points of Light" Foundation, but the celebration also recognized the 41st president’s legacy of charity and altruism.

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In brief remarks, Bush, who suffered from a protracted hospital stay late last year and was confined to a wheelchair, thanked President Barack Obama for his hospitality: "It's like coming home for Barbara and me."

President Barack Obama credited the 89-year-old Bush with sparking a "national movement" to advance volunteerism and community service as the 41st president of the United States, joined Obama onstage.

"You've described for us those thousand points of light -- all the people and organizations spread out all across the country who are like stars brightening the lives of those around them," Obama said at the White House. "But given the humility that's defined your life, I suspect it's harder for you to see something that's clear to everybody else around you, and that's how bright a light you shine."

"On behalf of all of us, let me just say that we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you, and we can't thank you enough," Obama added.

Neil Bush, one of the former president's sons, later thanked Obama in fuller remarks, calling the current president and first lady "points of light" of their own.

On a substantive level, Obama also announced a new White House task force dedicated to evaluating how the government might best promote volunteerism.

Monday's ceremony followed a lunch between the former president and other members of the Bush family, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Monday's ceremony did underscore, though, the sense of warmth that seems to span between the Bush and Obama families, despite their partisan differences. Former President George W. Bush has avoided criticism of his successor, and the two of them appeared together this year in Africa, and at the ceremonial opening of the George W. Bush library.