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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 25, 2005

Mrs. Bush Interviews with USA Radio Network About Helping America's Youth Conference
Via Telephone

10:16 A.M. EDT

Q Okay. Well, let's talk Youth Conference. You have a big event coming up at the White House.

MRS. BUSH: That's right, Helping America's Youth summit -- well, actually, it's the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth, but it will be held at Howard University this Thursday. People will be able to access it on the White House website all day. And it's going to be really terrific; I'm very, very excited about it.

All this year I visited programs around our country that are working to help children make wise decisions for themselves so that they can grow up to be healthy and successful adults, so that they can avoid gangs or alcohol and drug abuse, or early sexual activity, or all of the other things that are risky behavior for young people.

So on Thursday we're going to have researchers who will talk about the challenges that America's young people face today. And then we'll have a lot of great people from various programs around the country who talk about how they're meeting those challenges, to give the idea to other people and other communities.

And then one of the best things about the conference is we're going to introduce a new tool that communities can get on the Internet to assess all of the things that they already have, the ways they're already meeting the needs of young people in their communities -- and then when they see that, they can see in what ways they're falling down and not addressing certain needs for young people in their communities. And it's a great assessment tool for communities to work together on to meet -- make sure they meet the needs of young people.

I'm really excited about the conference. We're going to have terrific speakers. I've been moved by the programs that I visited around the country.

Q So the program, itself, steps outside of just education -- it's maybe reaching --

MRS. BUSH: That's right. We discuss fatherhood, we discuss a lot of -- in fact, the reason I even started thinking about this initiative was last September a year ago, during the campaign, I read a New York Times magazine article about a young man who had decided to be involved in his child's life. He had grown up without a father himself. And when he -- his girlfriend had a little boy, he didn't want his son to suffer that disadvantage and that sadness that children grow up with if they don't have a father in their lives.

So I read this story about him and it made me really start thinking about what we can do for young people so that young people will make the choice, for instance, to stay in the lives of their children as they get older. And I actually met the young man that I read the story about when I was in Milwaukee at a fatherhood initiative event. Just a few weeks ago I was in Kansas City at the National Center for Fathering, and saw all these dads and their sons and daughters together, as people talked about parenting and how important it is for fathers to be involved.

So it's not just education, although there is also an education part of it, and that's the Striving Readers program, the commitment that junior highs, middle schools and high schools need to make to children who have gotten that far in school and are still poor readers. And there's a lot of new research that shows how we can teach children at middle school age or early high school age how to read and actually to teach it pretty quickly. They can catch up with their peers pretty fast. And so that's a commitment that I know school districts around the country have, and it's also a way to make sure children have the chance to graduate from high school and then go on to college or go on to good jobs.Q I know your heart beat for education and family and just success of young people overall. And the President's faith-based initiative -- do these programs partner or merge in any way?

MRS. BUSH: Yes, there are a number of faith-based initiatives that I visited. Many are -- some are faith-based; some are supported in part by the government, through grants from the Justice Department or other grants; some are totally independent. One of the most moving programs I visited was started by Father Gregory Boyle in Los Angeles, and it's a way to stop gang violence. And, of course, a lot of his funding is faith-based, it comes from the Catholic Church.

I met with these former gang members that now work with him in these businesses that he started, called Homeboy Industries. They're silk-screening businesses. They have the Homegirls Caf and the Homeboys Bakery. And what Father Boyle does -- and he'll also be one of our speakers at the conference -- is he encourages people, young people who are unemployable because they've been in prison, they've used drugs, they're tattooed -- many of them have the gang tattoos all over their faces or arms -- and gives them jobs in this Homeboy Industries. They learn great skills. He has two laser machines and L.A. doctors give their time pro bono to remove these tattoos, so that after people have worked at Homeboy Industries they can go out and find a job with a silk- screening business, with a graphic business, with restaurants, with bakeries.

Ane one of the women that I met there told me that Father Boyle would literally ride his bike in the middle of a gang fight between them, telling all of these kids, young people, to stop. And she said, thank God he'd never been hit when he did this, when there were shootings. But he's really turned so many people's lives around. And that's certainly a wonderful example of one of the faith-based initiatives that I visited.

Q What would your message be to those that are coming to the conference? What do you want them to hear?

MRS. BUSH: I want people to understand that there's something every one of us can do; that certainly our role as parents is most important -- the most important thing any of us will ever do, as the President has said, if we're lucky enough to have children and to be parents to those children. And that's certainly part of the fatherhood initiative. I'll have a number of groups there that work specifically to encourage fathers to be involved and responsible for their children.

But, on the other hand, if you don't have children, if your children are grown and successful, there are many things you can do. You can volunteer in your community. You can assess your community's needs, work with other community members and see in what ways you're falling down on the job when it comes to helping the young people in your community. You can volunteer at a million great places in your different communities.

Q I just spent last Friday night at a junior high slumber party. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: Good for you.

Q So I'm a little sleep deprived, but I'm trying to stay up with you here.

And so what would you want to say to youth that maybe are ready to give up, or haven't seen in their community an interest?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I want young people to -- and I really am very, very encouraged about young people. Of course, I know a lot of young people who are around 23 years old, because of my girls and their friends. But I see young people everywhere, and everyone of these programs I visited have young people who really have hopes for their lives, they really want to do well.

At one of the fatherhood programs that I visited, where these were young fathers -- they weren't even 20 years old yet -- trying to stay involved with the lives of their children. And one of them said, you know, my goal is to wear a suit and tie to work. And you can see that each one of these people are making really a huge effort to stay involved with their children's lives, and graduate from high school, and get jobs and be able to support their children.

So I want encourage people -- young people, particularly -- to think about the choices you're making; every choice you make as a young person, as a high school student or older, can have either a beneficial or not beneficial effect on your life, and that you can be in charge of the decisions you make for yourself. You can also reach out -- reach out if you're having difficulty with your family or other difficulties -- reach out to somebody that you know that can help you, a teacher or your grandparent or just sit down and have a heart to heart talk with your own parents and tell them what you need from them.

Q I'd love to ask you about Iraq, where the constitution has been passed. Do you see this as another step toward democracy in that country?

MRS. BUSH: I really do, and I'm so encouraged. I mean, there is still so much violence and we read about it every day in the morning and my heart breaks for the Iraqi people who are dying in the violence, and of course for our troops. But I do think it's very, very important, when you think of how many people turned out to vote with all the threat of violence that they had against them, showed that a huge number of the Iraqis want a peaceful, democratic state. And I want to encourage people -- people that listen to you and people from around the world -- to speak out and encourage the Iraqi people to keep working toward this and toward peace, specifically.

Q And the number of people that turned out at the polls, women were among them.

MRS. BUSH: I know it.

Q Another step of progress in that country?

MRS. BUSH: Absolutely. And I read great quotes from women. I read about a woman who went to the polls with her husband and her three daughters, because she wanted her three daughters, her little girls to see what voting was and what it means to be part of a democracy.

Q Okay, you very last topic. Now, I'm in Dallas, so I could be jumping the gun here a little bit. (Laughter.) You went to SMU -- do you want to see the presidential library here?

MRS. BUSH: Well, all I can say is I know the presidential library -- the Bush Presidential Library will be somewhere in Texas. Of course, as you know, we love Dallas and that's where we lived before George was elected governor. So we hope some day to return to Dallas.

Q Good answer, I guess. SMU would be a good place, though, very close by. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: Absolutely.

Q Is there anything else you'd like to add?

MRS. BUSH: Well, just thanks very much, Melanie. I really appreciate it. And I want to encourage people to listen on the Internet,, on Thursday, to tune into the conference as it goes along that day and listen to the researchers talk about the challenges our children and young people face, and listen to all of these great programs that are meeting those challenges. And then try to make a step in your own community to meet the challenges of American young people.

Thanks, Melanie.

END 10:27 A.M. EDT

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