Obama paid tribute to the nations 41st president, helping him award the 5,000th "Daily Point of Light" in a ceremony at the White House.
The Points of Light program and other similar organizations inspired millions of Americans to volunteer for their country since Bush was in office more than two decades ago, Obama said.
Bush knew that every day "Americans were finding ways to serve others and give back to their communities -- often with very few resources and very little recognition," Obama said. "And President Bush knew that their good works were valuable to the people they helped -- but beyond that, he knew that their spirit of service was vital to our national character. So he created an award, the Daily Point of Light Award, to recognize Americans who serve their neighbors and communities in innovative ways that inspire us all."
"So on behalf of us all, let me just say that we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you and we can't thank you enough," Obama said.
Bush, 89, thanked the president for his "wonderful hospitality," added that returning to the White House was "like coming home" for him and his wife, Barbara.
The 5,000th Daily Point of Light awarded by Obama and Bush went to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, a couple from Iowa who thought they'd see the world in retirement and a friend suggested they visit Tanzania.
"When they arrived in Tanzania, the country was in the third year of a brutal drought. People were starving and dying. Many of them were children," Obama said. "And having seen this, Kathy and Floyd simply had to do something about it. And so their vision of a leisurely retirement was replaced by a new mission -- fighting global hunger."
In the decade since they created the non-profit Outreach, more than 233 million free meals have been given to hungry children here in the United States and in more than 15 countries worldwide.
Besides the former first couple, son Neil Bush, chairman of Points of Light, attended the East Room event, as did Points of Light Chief Executive Officer Michelle Nunn.
"In times of tight budgets and some very tough problems, we know that the greatest resource we have is the limitless energy and ingenuity of our citizens," said Obama, who added he was one of the "millions inspired by your passion and your commitment."
"And when we harness that energy and create more opportunities for Americans to serve," he said, "we pay tribute to the extraordinary example set by President Bush."