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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 19, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at An Announcement of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries Gulf Coast Library Recovery Initiative Grant
Holy Cross School
New Orleans, Louisiana
10:47 A.M. CDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Evan. Thank you for your very kind introduction. I also want to acknowledge Secretary Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of the Department of Education. Thank you so much, Margaret, for being with us. Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu is with us today, as well. Thank you so much, Governor, for joining us. I also want to recognize Dr. Joseph Murry, Ambassador Pam Willeford, Jim Schiro, and Marshall Payne, who is here in the crowd. He's the co-chairman of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries.
I had a foundation for libraries. We've given every year to around 140 school libraries in the United States, and we were just having our final meeting of our advisory board in October right after Hurricane Katrina. So these were the fundraisers that were on the advisory board, and when we met for what was going to be our final meeting, Marshall suggested that we keep raising money and that we give everything we can raise to Gulf Coast schools as they get rebuilt and are ready to build their libraries. So since Marshall suggested it, he got to be the co-chairman. So thank you very much, Marshall.
Teachers, parents, community leaders, students. Thank you very much for your warm welcome to New Orleans. Every time I visit the Gulf Coast, I'm encouraged to see more progress -- the clearing of debris, the new construction, but especially the new schools.
Schools are essential to the recovery that's under way. And we know that young people who have endured trauma heal best when they can go back to their normal routine at their own school. After Katrina, teachers, school superintendents and state school officials faced the unprecedented task of having to build whole school districts as fast as they could.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 1,000 private and public schools along the Gulf Coast were damaged or destroyed. More than 372,000 students were displaced to classrooms all over our 50 states. Today, 94 percent of the schools in Louisiana have reopened. In New Orleans, 58 public and charter schools are now up and running. And of course, newly rebuilt schools need new libraries.
In September 2005, the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries established this special fund -- the Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative. Since then, the foundation has awarded approximately $2.5 million to 54 schools throughout the Gulf Coast.
Thanks to the generous support of organizations like Zurich Financial, other corporations and individuals and foundations, these grants will help librarians build brand new collections that support their school's curriculum, and they'll help young people who use these libraries find comfort and information in their favorite books.
Holy Cross School is the recipient of one of the grants that we're announcing today. This school has a long and proud history. Holy Cross was first an orphanage, then a boarding school, and now a day school. Along the way, it's fulfilled its mission of turning boys into men -- into compassionate young men, I might add.
Since the 1850s, the Holy Cross community has endured epidemics of cholera and yellow fever and malaria. The brothers of Holy Cross outlasted the Northern blockade during the Civil War. In 1965, Holy Cross rode out the fury of Hurricane Betsy. The school has been a fixture on this site for more than 125 years.
But in 2005, Holy Cross was struck by Katrina. The Intercoastal Canal was breached just ten blocks north of here, leaving six feet of floodwater. All the school's buildings were condemned; its campus left unusable.
The Holy Cross community was determined to stay together. When administrators realized that many families had moved to Baton Rouge, they took the school with them. Holy Cross shared a campus with Dunham, holding classes from 4 to 9 in the evenings. Families that stayed in New Orleans made the long commute back and forth every day.
Right after Katrina, Holy Cross brother schools took in displaced students tuition-free -- sometimes as far away as California. At the end of the school year, 20 graduating students transferred their credits back so they could receive their rings here at Holy Cross. Boys from all grades showed their devotion by working to rebuild the Holy Cross library. The librarian, Beth Patin, said that even when boys were getting back late from Baton Rouge, they'd still come in every Saturday to help. They collected all the materials they could salvage from their old library. They took special care with the yearbooks and the school memorabilia dating back 128 years.
The boys boxed up books, moved out furniture and cleared out the old school. They helped Beth set up the new library that I just visited here in one of these trailers. For students, rebuilding the Holy Cross library has literally become a varsity sport. Standout volunteers got "hurricane patches" on their letter jackets.
Even with the boys' outstanding efforts, the Holy Cross library has a long way to go. Before Katrina, the collection was 50,000 volumes. Now there are about 500. Boys and parents do what they can to build the collection. They round up books left at home, and they donate them to Holy Cross. When Beth buys books for herself, she finishes reading them and then she gives them to the school. She said, "I pretty much read what 13-year-old boys like to read -- things like Harry Potter -- so it works out well."
Eager readers at Holy Cross still miss their library. Beth says, "Every Monday, they'll come in and ask, 'Did you get any new books today?' These boys are in the Ninth Ward, where there are trailers everywhere. There are rescue-Xs painted on all the houses. It's hard for them to maintain their happiness and youthfulness, but they do," she says. "And one thing that helps is when they can escape into books."
So today, I'm delighted to announce that Beth can start rebuilding the Holy Cross's collection with a $50,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation. (Applause.) Holy Cross is one of 14 schools receiving over half a million dollars today, as part of the foundation's fourth round of grants. Congratulations to the representatives from recipient schools who are here today. Thank you for your hard work rebuidling your schools. I'd like for all the representatives of the 14 schools to stand up, please. (Applause.)
As we celebrate today's awards, I want to encourage schools throughout the region to apply for foundation grants. These awards can help bring books back to school libraries. Rebuilt school libraries will help bring children back to their schools. And rebuilt schools will bring families back to a revitalized Gulf Coast.
The Holy Cross family represents this renewal. Despite the challenges you've been through, your spirit remains. And like the school's iconic gazebo, which survived the storm, I know you'll take this spirit with you to your new campus in Gentilly.
I understand you'll also take your "victory bell," which used to hang in the Administration Hall. The tradition was that after each winning game, Holy Cross boys came back to the school -- no matter what the hour -- to ring their bell. After Hurricane Katrina, your athletic director and a few parents recovered the victory bell. Since then, it's traveled to every Holy Cross game in the back of a pickup. Wherever Holy Cross held classes or played sports, the victory bell was there. Seniors have continued to ring it after every game.
Dr. Murry explains that keeping the bell "meant so much to the families, and especially to the boys. Some of them have been here since 5th grade -- and they've looked forward to that victory bell their entire time." Maintaining the traditions that make Holy Cross unique, he adds, is like ringing out a perpetual victory over Hurricane Katrina.
Thank you to everyone here at Holy Cross for not giving up on your school, or your city. And thanks to all of the school representatives here for your dedication to your students and your communities. Thanks to everyone who's supporting the Laura Bush Foundation for your commitment to the children of the Gulf Coast. Thanks to all of you for your optimism and your hard work. May God bless you. (Applause.)