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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 14, 2006

Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the National League of Cities Conference
The Hilton Washington Hotel
Washington, D.C.

10:30 A.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all, very much. (Applause.) Thank you for the very warm welcome. Thank you everybody. Be seated.

Thank you all very much. Kate, that was such a very, very lovely introduction. I think it was the best introduction I've ever had. (Applause.)

And everyone one of you out there can see by what Kate said how important it is for all of us as adults in the United States to do everything we can to help our young people. Kate is just an example of young people all over our country who are idealistic, who want a better live, and who are willing to work very, very hard to make the United States the best it could possibly be. Thank you so much, Kate. (Applause.)

I also want to thank everyone here for serving your communities and your cities, and for using the work that you have and the positions that you have to shape a better future for adults and children across our country. I especially want to acknowledge James Hunt, president of the NLC. Thank you very much, James, for your work. (Applause.)

And I want to acknowledge my mayor, Anthony Williams, the Mayor of Washington. (Applause.) And NLC's past president.

Today I want to tell you about the Helping America's Youth, the initiative that the President announced at his State of the Union address in 2005 and asked me to lead.

During my husband's first term, in my work with young people, I concentrated mostly on early childhood education and early childhood development. But I've always been interested in older children, as well, and in young adults, and in their lives and what we can do as adults to help them establish healthy and successful lives.

So over the last year, after the President announced the Helping America's Youth Initiative, I traveled to many parts of our country, visiting with young people and with the adults who are so important to their lives. I've been to schools and to after-school programs. I've met with mentors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I've visited with gang intervention programs -- one of them, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, where I met the young people who are leaving gangs and finding jobs thanks to the inspiration of Father Gregory Boyle, who started Home Boy Industries.

At the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth, which concluded this year of travel, Father Boyle spoke. And he spoke about the power of hope in a young person's life. He said, "I've never met a hopeful kid who joined a gang."

The White House conference featured scholars, researchers, and other adults who work directly with young people. They shared the statistics, the results of many of the programs that many of them had started. They shared anecdotal evidence and their own experience. And then when we introduced the Community Guide to Helping America's Youth -- I'll tell you more about that in a minute -- but we introduced it then at this conference.

Many of us in this room, probably most of us, are fortunate to have had two parents who showed us love and instilled in us the importance of education, and hard work, and good character. When I was growing up, it was common for most children to have two parents to rely on. And in Midland, Texas, I could count on just about every adult in town knowing who I was and what I was doing. And they'd report it to my mother if they saw me doing something they thought I shouldn't. (Laughter.)

Today, America's children and young people face many more dangers than we did just a generation ago. Drugs and gangs, and predators on the Internet, violence in real life and on TV and movie screens are just some of the negative influences that children have in their lives today.

And as today's children face greater dangers, 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 parents in prison. Boys and girls spend more time by themselves or with a group of their own peers than with other family members.

Young people need positive influences in their lives, and with the Helping America's Youth initiative, we can make sure that they have them. We want every child to be surrounded by caring adults who provide love, advice, and encouragement, and who can serve as good role models. We're taking action in the most important places in a child's life -- family, school, and community.

Families are the foundation of every child's life. And we must do all we can to help families stay together. Through programs like the Fatherhood Initiative or the Marriage Initiative, the administration supports ways to help parents stay together and to help men be involved and responsible dads. (Applause.)

Schools are at the heart of Helping America's Youth because every child must have a good education to have a bright future. Today, our schools are improving thanks to accountability, to higher standards, and to the hard work of teachers and principals who bring out the very best in their students. But many students in middle school and high school have been moved through the school systems without mastering vital skills like reading. The Striving Readers Program provides funds from the federal government that schools can use to help adolescents improve their reading skills and become proficient at grade level. With stronger reading skills, these students are more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to be successful in life.

And communities -- and this is where you come in -- are the third part of Helping America's Youth. Communities support families and schools. And strong communities support families so that parents know that the values they teach will be reinforced when their children are outside of home. Strong communities bolster the work of schools by providing educational and safe after-school activities for students. And strong communities nurture healthy children by surrounding them with a network of loving people who keep them safe and can help guide them toward a successful future.

Forming what we call "community coalitions" -- and, in fact, many of the programs that I visited around the United States are successful because they work with all different members of a community. Community coalitions provide an important step in reaching children who need help. Community coalitions bring together everyone in the community -- from teachers, to mentors, to pastors, to parents, to police officers, to substance abuse experts, social service providers, and business leaders. Anyone who can have a positive impact on a child's life should be part of a community coalition.

Each of you are leaders in your communities. You have positions of respect, and authority. You have contacts with other people in your community who work with children. You're well-versed in the issues that are faced by the young people in your own community. And you have ideas about how to address these tough problems.

We need your help.

I'm asking you personally, when you go back home, to contact people in your community who want to make an extra effort to help America's youth; then work together to form community coalitions. And make sure you include children and young people like Kate themselves, because their opinions and their experiences can be very informative.

The federal government can help make your community coalition effective. The Community Guide to Helping America's Youth, which helps communities assess their unique local needs and find programs and resources to meet them. The Guide is what we introduced at the Helping America's Youth Conference last year. And it's available at -- that's g-o-v.

In just a moment, Regina Schofield, Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice, will show you that the guide is very easy to use. With the community inventory feature, communities can assess each one of the areas where they might need help. The Guide will direct communities to more information about programs and resources that are designed to address the challenges that each community faces. A map of your own community is available on the guide. Your law enforcement can lay out your crime statistics on this map. You can plug in each one of your assets for young people in your community -- your Boys' and Girls' Clubs, your public libraries, your school playgrounds -- each thing in your community that's a special asset for children.

And then you can see which part of your communities, for instance, have the highest crime rates, where you need the most law enforcement. When you see those crime rates, you can see are they all happening between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at night. Do you need a good after-school program in that part of town so that children and young people aren't out by themselves in these neighborhoods at that time of day.

The Helping America's Youth website was developed, and tested, and is managed by a team of seven White House Offices and nine federal agencies, including the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Community Guide includes more than 180 programs that are shown to be effective at preventing and reducing juvenile delinquency and other problem behaviors.

I'm pleased to say that since October 27th when the website was introduced, the site has been used by more than 90,000 people. And 120 communities have registered to use the community inventory feature. These communities now have access to a number of resources that can help them improve lives for the children in their communities.

I've visited many communities during the last year, meeting people who are helping children develop a strong character, a love of education, and the self-respect and the self-control to stay away from drugs and violence and gangs. One of the first visits I made was to "Think Detroit," a program that teaches character development and healthy behavior through sports. After my visit, a newspaper reporter asked one of the little boys that I'd met what he thought about my visit. And I was moved when I read that the little boy simply said, "I wish she could stay here." (Laughter.)

Children want us in their lives and they need us in their lives. And as I've witnessed all across America, each of us has the power to help America's youth.

Thank you very much for your wonderful work. Have a great conference in Washington, and remember to visit the Helping America's Youth website when you get home. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

END 10:44 A.M. EST

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