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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 9, 2005
Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the 2005 National Big Brothers/Big Sisters Conference
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
9:16 A.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.) Thanks. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all. (Applause.) Okay. Thank you so much, Vinny. Thank you -- you and Parry for telling us your story. You know now from the video and from Vinny talking about it that the President and I met Vinny and Parry a couple of months ago. We met them at an event that was designed to highlight the awareness about the importance of mentors -- especially children who have a parent who's incarcerated. I want to thank Vinny and Parry for sharing their story with us. Thank you for being an example to all of us, both of you. Thanks so much.
As you heard from Vinny, mentoring doesn't only benefit children. The relationship is every bit as important to the adults who share in the success of the children they mentor. And thank you all for telling us about your friendship.
I'm also glad that I had the chance to meet Tom Taylor and Linda Nelson. They're both here. They're the Big Brother and the Big Sister of the Year. And thanks to their Little Brother and their Little Sister, David and Patty. Patty is actually Linda's fifth Little Sister over the course of the last 25 years. (Applause.) That's quite an extended family. Tom and Linda are great examples of how adults can dramatically improve children's lives by spending time with them for just a few hours every week.
Tom and Linda and Vinny receive great support from their local Big Brothers and Big Sisters chapters, as well as from the national organization. Thanks to Judy for -- your CEO -- thank you very much for everything you do, and to Jody Bilney, the Board President. But thanks to both of you for your leadership of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. (Applause.)
Big Brothers and Big Sisters everywhere are answering the call to service. Last year, more than 225,000 boys and girls in 5,000 communities had a Big Sister or Big Brother -- 225,000 is a lot of children. Yet there are still many more who need help, and we want to reach as many children as we possibly can.
In his State of the Union address this year, President Bush announced a new initiative called Helping America's Youth. A goal of Helping America's Youth is to make sure 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. And we're emphasizing the needs of boys because statistics show us that boys are falling behind girls in school, they're more likely to drop out. 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 help children excel in every part of their lives.
All around America, great programs are improving the lives of young people. Last week, I visited CeaseFire Chicago. CeaseFire brings together clergy, police officers, parents, teachers, doctors, and others, with the goal of stopping gang-related violence. I met with a young man named Freddy who was involved in a gang. His mentor, Miguel, who had spent time in prison himself, has been working with Freddy to help him stay in school and stay away from street violence. CeaseFire's model is working. In the neighborhood I visited, there were 10 gang-related murders in 2003. Last year there were none. (Applause.)
Another program, called Think Detroit, recruits volunteer coaches who incorporate lessons about positive character development into every practice and every game. And in Los Angeles, men and women at Homeboys Industries are getting the help they need to leave gangs. Father Gregory Boyle, who has worked in East L.A. for 20 years, believes that skills training and jobs are essential for young people, so that they can support themselves and feel the pride that comes with an honest day's work.
Across our country, Americans are turning good ideas into effective programs that give children hope for a better future, a future free from violence, free of drugs, and full of opportunities to go to college, to find a good job, and to raise their own loving families.
The Amachi program, run with the help of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, is only a few years old, but it's already very popular. Through Amachi, children like Parry who have a parent in prison, are matched with a caring adult who provides love and support.
The Reverend Wilson Goode and other Amachi leaders work with local law enforcement agencies to identify the children who need an adult in their lives. And they ask men and women in church congregations to put their faith into action by volunteering as mentors.
Amachi mentors provide love, guidance, and friendship. They serve as role models, showing children a positive image of what it means to be a responsible adult. For boys who grow up without fathers, this is often their first understanding of responsible manhood -- and the experience can change their lives. Mentors and children have fun together, going to ballgames, riding bikes, or reading books. But at the end of the day, the most important contribution mentors make is spending time and attention with a child.
Amachi has helped nearly 4,000 children since it was created in 2001. Amachi and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are working together in 121 communities. Not every community has an Amachi program, or a Big Brothers/Big Sisters 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.
Through Helping America's Youth, we're encouraging people to recognize the needs in their communities and then work together to meet them. The President has introduced several initiatives to support local efforts, including funding to provide mentors for children who have a parent in prison, and a new proposal to reduce gang violence and gang involvement.
One of the most essential ways the federal government can help local communities is by fostering connections between people who are already involved in good programs and people who want to get started. The USA Freedom Corps web site -- USAFreedomCorps.gov -- has the largest online clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities ever created. It's a great resource for people who want to make a commitment to children.
This fall, we'll convene a White House Conference on Helping America's Youth. We'll discuss some of the best practices to help children avoid risky behaviors and become responsible, healthy adults. A new assessment tool will be introduced at the conference. The tool will help communities identify the challenges their children face, and the programs that are showing success in meeting those challenges. We want to make it easier for whole communities to come together in concerted efforts to give their children more opportunities for success.
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 newspaper reporter asked one of the little boys I'd 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 today and across our country, each of us has the power to make the difference in the life of a child.
Thank you for everything you're doing. Thanks for all the work of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Thanks for what you're doing to help America's youth. And thanks for asking me to be here with you today.