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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 28, 2005
Mrs. Bush's Remarks on Helping America's Youth in Oregon
Friends of the Children Headquarters
1:32 P.M. PDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much. Thank you, Regis and James. Thank you so much for telling your stories so people can hear what a great difference a great mentoring relationship can make in people's lives. And I want to point out that it's not just in the lives of the children. The adults who are the mentors also share in the success of the children they work with, and that relationship is every bit as important to the adults as it is to the children. So thank you both for telling us about your friendship.
I'm happy to be here at the national headquarters of Friends of the Children, the place where Duncan Campbell's dream began. I want to thank Catherine Milton, who does great work as the National President of Friends of the Children. And I want to thank Mayor Tom Potter for being here today, and also Mylene Walden. Thank you both very much for coming to join us. (Applause.)
In his State of the Union address this year, the President announced a new initiative called Helping America's Youth. The goal of Helping America's Youth is to make sure that every child grows up with a caring adult in his or her life -- whether that adult is a parent, a teacher, a coach or a mentor.
The initiative calls for action in the three most important parts of a child's life: a child's family, a child's school and a child's community. We're emphasizing the needs of boys because statistics show us that boys are falling behind girls in school, they're more likely than girls to drop out of school, and boys are more likely than girls to be victims of crime or to go to jail themselves.
We all know that boys and girls, especially as they get to their teen years, face hazards. Smoking and drinking may look appealing to children when they see older kids doing it. Drugs are a temptation. Young people often feel pressured to have sex. Gangs and violence are a regular presence in many neighborhoods.
These challenges aren't limited to any one part of the country or to any one segment of society. Every child has to make choices between healthy behaviors that lead to success and risky behaviors that can lead down a road of bad outcomes. Our responsibility as adults is to help children resist negative pressures and then to help children excel in every part of their lives.
A young man from Milwaukee named Ken Thigpen inspired my interest in this subject. Ken was featured in an article in the New York Times Magazine last summer. Ken's childhood was disrupted by his parents' descent into drug addiction. As a young man, Ken dealt drugs and promoted prostitution and stealing. But Ken's life changed when his girlfriend became pregnant. He knew that if his son was going to have a better childhood than he had had, he would have to clean up his own life and commit himself to being a positive influence for his child. Ken stopped selling drugs and he took a job delivering pizzas so he could be at home with his son during the day. Every day was a struggle to avoid the easy money of his old life while enduring the taunts of people in his neighborhood who ridicule his more disciplined way of life now. And Ken wants to have a bigger career than delivering pizzas, but he made a courageous start, and it's important that we praise adults who commit themselves to helping children grow up feeling safe and loved.
All around America, there are great programs that are improving the lives of young people. In Philadelphia, the Boys and Girls Club has a program called Passport to Manhood. Boys meet with a mentor to discuss topics like respecting yourself and others, and avoiding alcohol and drugs. They see an ideal of manhood that respects life and rejects violence. Another program, called Think Detroit, recruits volunteer coaches who incorporate lessons about positive character development into every practice and game.
The President and I have also met with children who have a parent in prison. There are two million children in America just like them and those children yearn for love and attention. The children we met with had mentors who were helping them do well in school and helping them avoid the hazards of drugs and violence. These kids had a lot of fun with their mentors, going to ballgames, riding bikes or reading books. At the end of the day, though, the most important part about being a mentor is just spending time with each other.
Duncan Campbell knows all about the need for time together. Growing up with parents who often neglected him, Duncan made a vow to himself that he wouldn't let other children be lonely like he was. After working his way through college and law school, and starting a successful company, Duncan had the resources and the commitment to honor his promise to himself -- and Friends of the Children was born.
The concept of mentoring used by the Friends of the Children is unique, and it's praised by people who study the results. Friends make a long-term commitment to spending time with up to eight children on a regular basis. Children who are brought into the program are considered to be at the highest risk of getting into trouble as they grow up. The relationship between the Friends and each of the children they mentor requires at least four hours of interaction a week for 12 years -- that's quite a commitment -- all the way through high school graduation. Last June, the Portland chapter celebrated its first class of graduates. Of the 13 at-risk children who entered the program, 10 graduated from high school and another completed a GED. To provide some context for that accomplishment, keep in mind that of those 10 graduates, six were the first in their family to ever graduate from high school.
Chaquetta and two of her siblings have been mentored by a friend. Chaquetta, who is 15 years old, struggled academically, and she's been suspended from school for fighting. With help from her Friend, Rena, Chaquetta is making progress and she's on the track to graduate. Last summer, Chaquetta worked as an intern at Camp Friends, like Regis did. She enjoyed serving as a guide for children and she now has a goal of attending college so she can become a teacher.
Rena said the great thing about Chaquetta and the other girls she mentors is how motivated they are. "The girls want to be here," she said. "They want to experience new things and to have a positive adult female in their lives." Rena and Chaquetta, would you please stand and be recognized? (Applause.)
Chaquetta's sister, who graduated last year from the program and graduated from high school at the same time is also here. I didn't warn her and ask her if she wanted to stand up. If she wants to, would she? (Applause.)
When I arrived here this afternoon, I was met at the door by Dakota. Dakota sees his father sporadically and his mom has to work many hours to make ends meet. He's had problems with anger and depression, sometimes lashing out at others. Dakota's Friend, Ben, has been a great mentor. In getting to know each other, Ben found out that Dakota likes math. He enrolled him in the Saturday Academy at Portland State University, which offers a class that uses Legos to teach physics. Dakota is learning ways to control his anger and he's excelling in school. I'm impressed to learn that as a third grader, Dakota reads at a middle school level. (Applause.) With great reading skills, and with caring guidance from Ben, Dakota has a bright future. Dakota and Ben, would you please stand? (Applause.)
Stories like these are being repeated throughout America as Friends of the Children expands to serve more children in more cities. Today, nearly 600 children in nine communities from Boston to Seattle have their own group of Friends. Of course, not every community has a Friends of the Children chapter, but every community does have loving people who can improve the life of a child. Fifteen million children in America need a mentor or a role model in their lives. Surely there are 15 million caring adults who can fill that need. People who need help getting started can go to the website USAFreedomCorps.gov, which has the largest online clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities ever created.
Through Helping America's Youth, we're encouraging communities to recognize their needs and then to work together to meet them. The President has introduced several initiatives that support local communities, including funding to provide mentors for children who have a parent in prison and a new proposal to reduce gang violence and gang involvement. The Responsible Fatherhood Initiative and the Healthy Marriage Initiative are designed to keep families strong and stable, so that whenever possible, children can grow up with two loving parents in their home.
One of the most important ways the federal government can help local communities is by fostering connections between people who are running good programs like this one and people who want to get started. This fall, we'll convene a White House Conference on Helping America's Youth to discuss some of the best practices to help children avoid risky behaviors and become responsible, healthy adults. The conference will introduce a new assessment tool that communities can use to identify the challenges that they face, to identify the services that they already have, and then to work together so they can meet the needs of their community. They can integrate federal and local programs to create seamless efforts to help all the children in each community.
Helping America's Youth depends on partnerships within communities, and on the individual commitment of Americans. The time between childhood and adulthood is all too short -- as George and I can attest -- and every moment in a child's life is precious. After I visited Think Detroit, a reporter -- a newspaper reporter asked one of the little boys I met what he thought about my visit, and I was moved when I read that he simply said, "I wish she could stay here." Children want us in their lives and children need us in their lives. And as I've learned from the remarkable men and women I've met here at Friends of the Children, each of us has the power to make the difference in the life of a child.
Thank you all very, very much. Thank you for your commitment to children here in Portland and everywhere. Thanks so much. (Applause.)