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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 8, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Regional Conference on Helping America's Youth
Dallas Baptist University
11:14 A.M. CST
MRS. BUSH: Thank you all. Thanks so much, and thank you, Mike. Thanks, everybody. That was a great story to hear. Thank you, Michael. Thank you for telling us about Mr. Moses and Mr. Ken, who both have helped you. I know -- I've heard many of the speakers that you all have heard this morning. I know a lot of the stories that you have heard, and I know how moving and inspirational every one of these stories are. But Michael, yours certainly is very moving and inspirational too. So thank you very much.
I want to recognize Sheila Cook, the wife of the President of Dallas Baptist University, Dr. Gary Cook. Sheila is here with us. Thank you so much to Dallas Baptist University to be the place that we can gather today for this conference.
Also Dr. Blair Blackburn, the Executive Vice President of the University is here. Thank you very much, Blair. And I especially want to thank the Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbott, for what he said earlier. Mayor Robert Cluck, the Mayor of Arlington is here, and thank you, Mayor. Thank you for joining us today. Mayor Virginia DuPuy of Waco has also joined us, and I'm so happy that she's here.
Thanks to each and every one of you for the warm welcome back home to Texas. I'm so happy to be in Dallas with you for this regional conference. Most of all, I'm delighted to be with so many distinguished community leaders for this, our fifth regional conference on Helping America's Youth. The work that you do in your neighborhoods -- helping young people build the knowledge and the self-respect they need to build successful lives -- is at the heart of Helping America's Youth.
As you saw in the video earlier, President Bush announced the Helping America's Youth Initiative in his 2005 State of the Union, and he asked me to lead it. So after the -- or during the last two and a half years, I've visited many programs across our country. You saw just a few of them in the video. I've visited with young people and with the adults who are so important to their live. I've been to schools and to after-school programs. I've met with mentors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I've been out to that Homeboy Industries that you all saw, that Father Gregory Boyle started for gang members, former gang members. I've visited sports programs, that debate program you saw in Atlanta, and gang intervention programs in L.A. and Chicago.
All of these visits have led to the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth in October of 2005, and then to four regional conferences in Indianapolis, Denver, Nashville, St. Paul, and now this fifth conference in Dallas.
At the White House Conference in 2005, we introduced an online, interactive Community Guide, and I hope many of you were here yesterday to learn how to use this Community Guide. The guide helps concerned adults learn more about the challenges that face children in their own communities. If local law enforcement, for instance, has mapped your community's crime statistics, you can lay this map on top of your community and see which neighborhoods have the most youth-related problems, and what local resources are already in these neighborhoods to help address these problems, or what local resources you can draw into these neighborhoods.
Many of you saw how this interactive map -- yesterday, if you saw the -- came to the workshop -- lets users enter their own zip codes, find demographic data about the young people in your own neighborhood, and then locate federally supported youth programs nearby. The guide's Program Tool helps adults find youth initiatives that research has proven are effective in reducing substance abuse, gang activity and other challenges faced by young people.
The Community Guide is available on the Helping America's Youth website, at http://www.helpingamericasyouth.gov -- that's g-o-v. The site also features live and archived conference webcasts. In fact, this gives me a chance to say hello to everyone who's watching this conference live via the web.
This summer we added a new online feature, the Helping America's Youth News Flash. This e-newsletter will provide updates on recent Helping America's Youth events. It will showcase successful community programs and highlight adults who have shown exceptional dedication to young people. Use this website to sign up for the News Flash, to watch the other conferences, and to access the Community Guide. Through the guide, and through all of these regional conferences, we're helping -- we're trying to make Helping America's Youth more local so that we can work directly with community leaders to address the unique challenges facing their young people.
And we all know that the challenges facing young people in the United States today are far greater than they were for children just a generation ago. Drugs and gangs, predators on the Internet, violence on television and in real life are just some of the negative influences that are present everywhere today. And as children face these challenges, they often have fewer people to turn to for help. More children are raised in single-parent families, most often without a father. Millions of children have one or both of their parents in prison. Many boys and girls spend more time alone or with their peers than they do with any member of their family.
Today, we're learning about the difficulties facing children and teens here in Texas and in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized Native American tribes -- more than any other state -- which means that Oklahoma adults have a special obligation to tribal youth. Many Native American children grow up in households led by single women, and Native American young people have higher school dropout rates.
Across the United States, I've met with American Indian leaders who are determined to overcome these challenges. I've visited programs that provide tribal youth with mentors, after-school support, recreation, fellowship, college planning and cultural education. A recent study showed that Native American young people who succeed despite adversity report that they feel good about their tribal culture. They participate in cultural activities. They enjoy strong connections to their Native communities, and they appreciate the influences of their elders. I want to thank everyone here who's providing these positive influences for Native children and teens in Oklahoma and Texas. (Applause.)
Gang violence is another challenge facing our state and country. Earlier, you heard from Autry Phillips, the Director of Community Support for CeaseFire Illinois. In 2005, I visited CeaseFire -- then, it was CeaseFire Chicago -- and saw how this program has revolutionized the city's approach to eradicating youth violence. Instead of relying entirely on law enforcement, CeaseFire mobilizes whole communities to address the conditions that lead to violence and shootings.
CeaseFire sends Outreach Workers -- often former gang members themselves -- onto Chicago's streets, where they teach young people who've grown inured to violence what normal standards of behavior are. The program's founder, Dr. Gary Slutkin, explains that CeaseFire Outreach Workers are "followed around like Pied Pipers," he says, "because these kids are so hungry for a good example."
CeaseFire encourages adults -- especially clergy -- to serve as role models, and it encourages young gang members to get, and keep, legitimate jobs. CeaseFire's model is so successful that cities around the country are now adapting it to their own communities.
The problems confronting Native American youth -- and the threats posed by gangs -- are among the many great challenges facing America's young people. But greater still is our love for our children, our hope for them, and the dedication of millions of Americans to helping young people succeed.
To make sure every child is surrounded by these positive influences, even more adults must dedicate themselves to helping young people. Adults should be aware of the challenges facing children, and then they should take an active interest in children's lives. Adults, and especially parents, should build relationships where they teach their children healthy behaviors by their own good example.
Across our country, I've seen how adults from every part of the community can make a difference in the lives of young people. In a few minutes, we'll hear from Alma Morales Riojas -- a fellow Texan, and the President and CEO of MANA, a National Latina Organization.
Alma is one of many caring adults who've dedicated themselves to Hispanic youth. Across the United States, there are nearly 20 million Hispanic children under the age of 18. According to the demographic estimates, by the year 2020, one in five children in this country will be of Hispanic origin.
It's in the interests of our entire nation to make sure Hispanic youth can grow up to make positive contributions to our society -- which, of course, requires eliminating obstacles to their success. Currently, Latina girls have the highest teenage pregnancy rate compared to other ethnic groups. According to a recent survey of more than 15,000 high school students across the country, Hispanic girls reported the highest percentages of lifetime alcohol use and illegal drug use, like marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines.
Alma's organization, MANA, gives young Latina women the adult support and the guidance they need to avoid risky behaviors, and then to set ambitious goals for their lives. Through MANA's Hermanitas program, Latina girls are matched with mentors who encourage the girls to take pride in themselves and in their families and in their culture. Hermanitas and their mentors go on museum outings and to Girl Scout trips. Volunteers hold health workshops that educate girls about teen pregnancy.
Mentors encourage the girls to stay in school, and then to pursue advanced degrees. They take their Hermanitas to college campuses, and they arrange for speakers to advise the girls about what classes they can take to improve their chances for college admission.
A Harvard study published this year showed that Hermanitas is a success: Over the last three years, the program kept girls away from alcohol and drugs, and it helped boost their self-esteem. If you ask Alma, though, she'll say that the most important measure of Hermanitas' success is the girls themselves -- girls like Anita Ayala.
Anita is the daughter of Mexican migrant laborers, who came to the U.S. to harvest mushrooms in Pennsylvania. When Anita enrolled in the Hermanitas, she was living in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Many young people in the community dropped out of school or joined gangs. Anita's parents weren't aware of the educational opportunities that existed for their daughter: No one in their family had ever completed high school, let alone college.
During her first year in Hermanitas, Anita was extremely shy. By her third year, she was running a major campaign for the seat on MANA's national board of directors reserved for young Hermanitas. And in case you're wondering, she won. (Laughter.) With the support and guidance of her mentor, Anita became confident in herself and in her fellow Latinas. She and the other girls at her local MANA chapter started their own company, Crystal Creations. The girls make and sell crystal jewelry, and they use the profits in their neighborhood to clear graffiti and to clean up roads and parks. The rest of the proceeds support scholarships for other Hermanitas.
Alma says she's amazed at how young women who grew up with next to nothing themselves are now helping other girls find the money to go to college.
Anita herself earned a scholarship to Penn State. She finished college in three years with three degrees -- including one in Japanese. This young woman who came to Hermanitas with limited English left college fluent in three languages, and then spent a semester teaching English to children in Japan.
Recently, Anita was honored with MANA's Primeras award, which recognizes outstanding Latinas. Primeras honorees include Antonia Novello, the first Latina surgeon general; Elena Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut; and General Angela Salinas, the first Latina general in the Marine Corps. Now they include Anita Ayala -- a 20-year-old college graduate who's an example of the immense promise of young Latinas. She's also an example of the importance of caring adults -- like Alma Morales Riojas. Alma, where are you? She's in the audience. (Applause.) She's probably gone backstage, actually.
During her Primeras award acceptance speech, Anita challenged everyone in the audience to give other young people the gifts of love and support that her mentor had given her. Today, I'm going to repeat Anita's challenge to adults across our nation. Care about the young people in your communities. Invest in their lives, and become a role model. As you've heard throughout this conference, young people want us in their lives, and they need us in their lives. And as I've learned from the remarkable men and women I've met across our country, each one of us has the power to help America's young people.
Thank you all so much for coming today. Thank you for your commitment to our young people. (Applause.)
END 11:31 P.M. CST