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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 21, 2005
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Third Annual Boehner-Kennedy Dinner
The Capital Hilton
7:59 P.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much, Chairman Boehner. Thanks for being a leader on education issues. And thanks for taking a personal interest in the children of Washington, D.C. Thank you also, Senator Kennedy. Children in the District have great advocates in these two men. They represent both parties, both houses of Congress, and decades of public service. So thank you both for your efforts on behalf of children. (Applause.)
I'm glad to see Debbie Boehner here tonight and Victoria Kennedy, and so many members of Congress. Thanks to Cokie Roberts, our emcee. And I'm thrilled that her beautiful mother, Ambassador Lindy Boggs, is here with us today. (Applause.)
And special thanks to Lawrence Morton, who I got to meet backstage. And he did an excellent job with the Pledge of Allegiance. (Applause.)
Cokie and her mother, of course, and Congressman Boustany, who is here -- I saw him when I was in Lafayette, Louisiana, earlier this month -- all have very deep ties to the Gulf Coast. And our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all the people whose lives were affected by the hurricane.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Catholic-school teachers and principals can be proud of their students, who are living the values that they've been taught. Across America, bake sales and car washes are raising money for Hurricane Katrina victims. In southern California, two Catholic high school rivals played a football game they call "The Holy War." (Laughter.) Their fans donated a thousand dollars to Catholic Charities. A newspaper reported that eighth-graders at St. Anne's Catholic school in South Carolina changed their class trip from a visit to Washington, D.C., to a closer trip to Charleston so they could donate more money to Hurricane Katrina victims.
Catholic-school students are welcoming new faces and adjusting to sometimes crowded classrooms. New Orleans, with its deep Catholic roots, had 52,000 students enrolled in Catholic schools. Biloxi and Mobile had thousands more. Most of these students now need to enroll in new schools.
At Strake Jesuit High School in Houston, the administration initially planned on welcoming 50 students from Jesuit High School in New Orleans. Now Strake is hosting more than 400 New Orleans students. Catholic schools are enrolling students at every level -- from kindergarten through college -- often without any expectation of tuition. They're making room in classrooms or adding mobile units. They're providing books, uniforms, and sometimes even meals so that students can settle in as quickly as possible. One Catholic-school principal in Dallas told a reporter, "Nobody wrote a handbook on what to do in a crisis like this. So we're following the original handbook -- the Bible." (Applause.)
A child's family, home, and school are the constants in their lives. For children who have left their homes, school provides comfort and reassurance -- a sense that life does go on, even if the surroundings are a little different. It's important for children to keep up with their studies and to maintain a daily routine. And it's important for parents to know that their children are in safe and nurturing schools.
Hurricane Katrina affected students from every type of school -- public, private, and parochial. And every type of school has welcomed children, new students, with open arms. President Bush and the Congress will work together to help ease the burden that these schools will have with their unanticipated expenses.
We're also encouraging private-sector donors to help. The web site HurricaneHelpForSchools.gov is a place where these schools can list their needs and organizations and corporations can post the supplies that they have to offer. Then schools and donors can contact each other to get supplies where they're needed.
All of you are part of an effort to support Catholic-school students in Washington, D.C. By raising funds to provide tuition, you're providing children the opportunity to receive a great education built on a solid foundation of good values. These values help children develop the strong character that they'll need to handle all the challenges of growing up.
Risky behaviors, including drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, violence, and early sexual activity are still among the top causes of disease and early death among youth. At the same time, more children are growing up without an involved, committed, and responsible father in their lives, and studies show that an overwhelming number of violent criminals in the United States are males who grew up without a father.
Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and mentors can help children develop the character to make wise and healthy decisions. And they can shape a world in which good values are encouraged and dangerous behaviors are unacceptable.
As part of the Helping America's Youth initiative that Congressman Boehner mentioned, I've visited a number of programs across the United States that are demonstrating how adult guidance and support can dramatically improve the lives of young people. And I want to tell you about just one of these programs.
In Los Angeles, I met a Catholic priest named Father Gregory Boyle. Father Boyle runs a program called Homeboy Industries. When I visited Homeboys, one of my greeters at the door was a young man with a word tattooed across his forehead and scratches tattooed down his neck. Needless to say, there are not a lot of employers who would employ him if they met him.
Father Boyle knows that most of the young women and men that he hires at Homeboy Industries would have a hard time finding a job. Most are uneducated. They've been in jail, they've used drugs, or they're in gangs, and they have the tattoos to prove it. But Father Boyle knows that having a job can make a tremendous difference in a person's life, so he employs these young people. Homeboy Industries a silk-screening business and a caf and bakery -- self-sustaining enterprises that are run by these former gang members.
Homeboys also has a tattoo-removal program. They own two laser machines and L.A. doctors give their time pro bono to help gang members remove their tattoos. Father Boyle told me a story about a man who came in and said, I've got this great big tattoo on my chest and I want to remove it. And Father Boyle said, Well, it's really painful and it's very expensive. Just wear a shirt, nobody will see it. And the man said, But my son will.
The young people I spoke to at the roundtable there at Homeboy Industries told me that they had dealt drugs and they'd used drugs and they'd been in prison. And they said that of course they could make a lot more money dealing drugs than they could working in the bakery or the silk-screen business. But they said the life of a dealer is so filled with anxiety and fear that they'd rather take a lower paying job, a real job, a substantial job that offers them stability and security, and a chance to lead a decent life.
Father Boyle has made a huge difference in the lives of all of these young people. They acquire skills, they get their tattoos removed, and they gain a new sense of self-respect and a desire to strive for something better, all because one man put his faith into action.
Next month, I'll host a White House Conference on Helping America's Youth. The conference will be held at Howard University, and it will bring together policy makers, community and faith-based leaders, educators, law enforcement, foundations and others. Researchers will present their findings about what leads children toward risky behavior and how we can help them avoid it. All the participants will share their experiences about what methods are working in communities.
At the conference, we'll introduce the Helping America's Youth Community Assessment Guide so that communities and individuals can assess the greatest needs of their own youth and implement strategies proven to help young people.
The needs in communities are great, and so is the capacity that each one of us has for making a difference in our communities. We know that America is a compassionate nation, and we've been reminded this month of how much love and caring the American people are capable of. That same love fills this room. Children in our nation's capital have access to Catholic-school education, an education that shapes their mind and their character, and teaches the values that make communities strong, because you take an interest in their lives.
Thank you very much for all you're doing to help children become healthy, responsible and successful adults. Your caring makes a tremendous difference in our city. Thank you all, and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 8:11 P.M. EDT