The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 14, 2005

Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
Washington, D.C.

7:33 P.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very, very much. I'm the one that should be applauding you. Thank you for turning out tonight for Bridges, and to support the very, very important work that Bridges does for young people in five cities, I understand, around our country. And thank you so much for being here for that.

Laura Bush acknowledges the applause of the crowd as she is introduced at the Marriott Foundation for Disabilities Gala Dinner, June 14, 2005 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. J.W. (Bill) Marriott, Jr., left, is seen welcoming Mrs. Bush to the podium.  White House photo by Krisanne Johnson Also, thanks so much to Bill Marriott, who is a great friend to George and me. Bill and Dick and the whole Marriott family are friends to many people in Washington, and certainly, through the Marriott Foundation, they're friends to people with disabilities and their families.

Thanks also to Kathleen Matthews, our emcee. A few weeks ago I spoke at the National Fatherhood Initiative and Leon Harris was the emcee. I'm getting familiar with all the talent at Channel 7. (Laughter.) Thanks so much for helping with this very important cause.

And thanks to everybody who is here, who is making America a more welcoming society for people with disabilities.

My father-in-law -- the man we affectionately call "41" -- feels deeply about the importance of helping Americans with disabilities. He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was President, and it's made a dramatic difference in the way we respond to the needs of people who have disabilities. Now, instead of explaining why someone can't be given access to a building or can't be hired for a job, we put our energy into making the building accessible, and helping Americans with disabilities find the jobs they want. (Applause.)

My husband shares his father's commitment. Within two weeks of taking the oath of office in 2001, he introduced the New Freedom Initiative. The New Freedom Initiative builds on the progress of the ADA by supporting new technologies that make work and communications easier, and thereby helping people with disabilities live full, active lives in their communities.

George is also pleased to have signed into law a revised IDEA -- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Now, IDEA more closely aligns with the No Child Left Behind law. We can assure parents that the federal government will make every effort to ensure that all children reach their highest potential.

Once young men and women graduate from school, they need to find jobs. And that's where the Marriott Foundation fills an important need. The "Bridges: from school to work" program connects young people who have disabilities with employers, like the management of The Majestic theater. Bridges fosters a sense of worth and dignity in young people like Michael Bradley, the youth achievement award winner. Thousands of men and women are leading successful lives because of the Bridges program.

At the President's State of the Union address this year, he introduced a new initiative called Helping America's Youth, which shares the same goal that the Bridges program has. Helping America's Youth combines federal programs that already exist with a new program designed to help young people avoid gangs and make happy choices for their life. It also relies on ordinary Americans and private organizations that help children stay in school, stay away from drugs, gangs, and violence. And the goal, just like the Bridges goal, is to give children every opportunity to grow up to become healthy, successful adults.

I've met many caring adults who are doing this work, and after every meeting I come away with a greater awareness of the problems children face and effective ways to help them overcome those problems.

Last week, at a Big Brothers/Big Sisters conference, I was introduced by Vinny Thomas. Vinny was once in prison and a mentor helped him get his life back on track. Now Vinny is an ordained deacon and a Big Brother to a young man named Parry, whose father is incarcerated.

Vinny said that adults complain about how children behave --that they don't show respect to their elders or that they wear their pants too low. But many of these children have never been -- had an adult in their lives to teach them any of these lessons. They need caring adults to show them the right way to do things. And by the way, Parry, Vinny's little brother, was dressed in a shirt and tie.

Many of the young people, especially the young men I meet, have grown up without a father in their home. They feel the void in their lives, never having a male figure to provide support and authority, to teach them how to behave at a job interview or to give them the confidence to say no to negative pressures. pressures. These young men don't want their own children to grow up without a dad.

In Milwaukee, I met Damion, who is in a program called Today's Dads. Today's Dads helps teenage fathers stay involved in their children's lives while the dads finish school or find work. Damion said that his main goal was to have a job that required him to wear a jacket and a tie to work every day. It's his image of a reliable father -- the kind of father Damion never had, but wants to be for his son.

In Los Angeles, Father Gregory Boyle runs a program called Homeboy Industries. It includes a silk-screening business and a caf and bakery, run by former gang members, so that they can develop job skills. There is also a tattoo-removal program, which serves two purposes. First, it helps men and women separate themselves from gangs by removing their gang-related tattoos. And second, it improves their chances of getting a job. How many of you would hire someone who showed up for an interview with a tattoo creeping up his neck or across his forehead?

Getting rid of tattoos can also restore a person's self-respect. One former gang member who had a huge tattoo across his chest wanted it removed. But Father Boyle told him, "It's expensive and it's painful. Just leave your shirt on and no one will see it." But the young man responded, "My son will."

Fathers want their children to be proud of them and children want to be proud of their dads. Last summer I read in the New York Times Magazine about Ken Thigpen. Ken grew up with parents who became addicted to drugs. He started selling drugs himself. And he spiraled into a life of drugs and theft and violence that was leading him nowhere.

When Ken found out that he was going to become a father, he resolved to change his life. The saddest part of his own childhood was that he didn't have a loving father at home. He wanted his son to grow up without that loss, so he began to change his own life. Now Ken delivers pizza at night and stays home with his son during the day while his girlfriend works. Ken made hard choices to build a better life for his child, choices he hopes his son will one day appreciate.

I had the chance to meet Ken this summer when I was in Milwaukee, and I'm very impressed by his courage. Sometimes it's hard to tell if children want us to stay involved in their lives, especially when they're teenagers. They don't always volunteer information, and they may indicate that they don't appreciate our questions very much, no matter what office you've been elected to. But now that my daughters are grown, I know that they were listening to George and me, even if they were making faces at the same time.

Younger children can be more direct. After I visited Think Detroit, which is a program that teaches character development through sports, a newspaper reporter asked one of the little boys what he thought of my visit. And he said, "I wish she could stay here."

So many of these experiences tug at your heartstrings. I'm thrilled to have the chance to lead Helping America's Youth, because I get to meet the children who have a brighter future, thanks to American adults.

It's also such a great pleasure to meet the mentors, the teachers, the coaches and the parents who are making a huge difference in the lives of children. They exist in every part of America, and it's my privilege to shine the light on their work.

I want to thank each and every one of you out here who are making the difference in the lives of young men and women by providing guidance to them and support and love to people who need a good start in the world. You can change the course of the future of every young man and women that you help, and nothing could be more satisfying.

Thank you so much for what you do, and thanks especially to Dick and Bill Marriott. Thank you all very, very much.

END 7:44 P.M. EDT

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