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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
August 3, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Helping America's Youth Regional Conference
University of Minnesota St. Paul Student Center
St. Paul, Minnesota

photos  Photos

12:14 P.M. CDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all, and thank you, Evan, and thank you, Maia. Thank you for your great speech that you just gave. Thanks, everybody.

Evan, thank you very much. I did have a chance to meet Evan not that -- just a few weeks ago when I was in Mobile, and I'll tell you more about that later. And I met Maia last -- let's see, 2004, maybe, I think, when I was here. So thank you all both very much. And thank you especially for inspiring all the other mentors who are here in the group, who love to hear the stories about your mentors.

Mrs. Laura Bush delivers remarks at the Helping America's Youth Fourth Regional Conference in St. Paul, Minn., Friday, August 3, 2007.  White House photo by Chris Greenberg I want to especially thank Dr. Bruininks, the President of the University of Minnesota. Thank you for letting us have this conference on your campus, and your wife, Dr. Susan Hagstrum. Thank you so much, Susan, as well.

Thanks to everyone for the very warm welcome to Minnesota. I want people throughout this state to know that you have the sympathy and the support of people across the United States. We're praying for everyone who was affected by Wednesday's bridge collapse, that were affected by the destruction, by the injuries, or by the tragic loss of life.

We know that this tragedy is huge to your city, and that recovery will take some time. During the recovery process, I urge people to make an extra effort to comfort their children. We've seen photos and we've heard the story about the camper -- the school bus that was filled with campers who were rescued by their counselor, and also by a bystander who jumped out of his car and ran back to help the school counselor rescue the children.

Many children here in Minnesota and across our country have also seen these images. They've also heard these stories. So I urge parents and adults to reassure their kids that they can keep going on about their daily routine. They can take the bus to school, and they can ride home in their cars across a bridge and that they'll be safe.

I've just come from the Emergency Operations Center, where I met with the first responders and many of the Red Cross workers who have been volunteering around the clock. They're many of the people who rushed to the scene when they first heard about it. I met the woman who was water skiing. She happened to also be a first responder, a policeman. And she immediately threw her water skis over and got her diving equipment, which she happened to have, and has been diving since.

We heard about all the other bystanders who just jumped out of their cars and dove into the water to help rescue trapped motorists, and the emergency personnel who worked all through the night that first night, and many of them who are still working today, and about the caring citizens who brought them water and food while they worked.

I hope that everyone here also will remember those emergency workers. They also suffer. It's difficult for them to be the ones that have to tell a family they couldn't rescue their loved one, that it was too late, or to be the ones who see the families grieve. And so I want to encourage especially everybody who's local at this conference to remember those emergency workers, too. A lot of them, especially those big men, seem pretty tough. But we know they have needs, just like all the rest of us.

Over the last 43 hours, the whole country has seen the strength of the Minneapolis/St. Paul community. And because we've seen that strength, we all are confident that the bridge will be rebuilt, and that your city will heal. (Applause.)

We also see the strength of this community right here at this conference on Helping America's Youth. The work that all of you do in your neighborhoods every day -- helping young people build the knowledge and the self-respect they need to lead successful lives -- is at the heart of Helping America's Youth.

President Bush announced the Helping America's Youth Initiative in his 2005 State of the Union address, and he asked me to lead it. Over the last two years, I've traveled throughout the United States, 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 visited sports programs, one in Detroit; a debate program in Atlanta; and gang-intervention programs in Los Angeles and Chicago.

All of these visits led to the first conference on Helping America's Youth, the White House conference, in October of 2005, and then to the first three regional conferences in Indianapolis, Denver, and Nashville, and now, of course, to this fourth conference in Minneapolis. At the White House conference, we introduced an online, interactive Community Guide, which helps concerned adults learn more about their own communities. If local law enforcement has mapped your community's crime statistics, for example, the guide will show you which neighborhoods have the most youth-related problems, and what local resources you already have to address these problems.

Many of you learned how to use this Guide yesterday. You saw how its interactive map lets users enter their own zip code, find out demographic data about the young people in your neighborhoods, and then locate youth programs nearby. The Guide's "Program Tool" helps adults find youth initiatives that research has proven are effective in reducing substance abuse, for instance, gang activity, and other risks faced by our young people.

The Community Guide is available on the Helping America's Youth website, at -- that's g-o-v. The site also features live and archived conference webcasts, which gives me a chance to say hello to the groups who are watching this conference live via the website, including 120 young people who are attending the technology camps here at the University of Minnesota.

This week, 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 it will highlight adults who've shown exceptional dedication to young people. The first News Flash, which we released Tuesday, reached thousands of people. If you know of an outstanding community coalition or a caring adult who should be featured in the News Flash -- and I'm guessing a lot of you do -- please e-mail .

Be sure to go to the website and sign up for the News Flash, watch the other conferences, and use the Community Guide. Through the Guide, and through all of these regional conferences, we're making Helping America's Youth more local so that we can work directly with community leaders to address the unique challenges facing their young people.

The challenges facing young people are far greater today 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 present everywhere. And as children face these 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. Many boys and girls spend more time alone or with their peers than they do with any member of their family.

This afternoon, we'll learn about the difficulties facing children and teens here in the northern region -- especially Native American youth. In St. Paul, half of American Indian households are led by single women. Native Americans have the largest absenteeism rate in St. Paul public schools, and dropout rates are high.

St. Paul's American Indian leaders are determined to overcome these challenges. Many of these leaders are here today, including representatives from St. Paul's Native American community partnership.

Over the last two decades, this community coalition has worked to address the full range of problems facing Native American youth. Young people can now find shelter at the Ain Dah Yung Center. Struggling students receive after-school tutoring through the Department of Indian Work. The First Nation Sports Initiative at the American Indian Family Center -- and the community powwows at the American Indian Magnet School -- provide children with recreation and fellowship. The St. Paul Public Schools offer college planning through their Indian Education Program.

Private citizens, too, are doing their part: One community leader, Elona Street-Stewart, remembers a grandmother who took in 10 foster children. She nurtured them and provided them with a stable home -- seeing these children through to their high school graduation.

The St. Paul partnership shows how all sectors of the community -- schools, religious groups, governments, and service organizations -- can come together to improve the lives of young people. Leaders say that school attendance has improved, and that test scores have risen. The coalition is also helping Native elders pass on their tribes' rich languages, histories, and cultures to their children.

A recent study showed that Native American young people who are successful despite adversity report feeling proud of their tribal culture. They participate in cultural activities, and they enjoy strong connections to their Native communities, and they appreciate the influences of their elders. And in fact, we know that all children who have a close connection to their families and to their communities are more likely to succeed.

The St. Paul community partnership provides these positive influences -- and at the same time, preserves native traditions from one generation to the next. As Elona will tell you: "We're keeping the circle unbroken." Elona and the St. Paul community partnerships are here. Would you all stand please? Where are they? There they are, back there. (Applause.)

The problems confronting Native American youth 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 our young people succeed.

To make sure every child is surrounded by these positive influences, even more adults must dedicate themselves to helping America's youth. Adults should be aware of the challenges facing children, and take an active interest in their lives. Adults, and especially parents, should remember that they can teach their children healthy behavior 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 June 2005, I visited CeaseFire Chicago, where an epidemiologist -- epidemiologist, I'm sorry, that's a lot of syllables -- (laughter) -- Dr. Gary Slutkin, revolutionized the city's approach to eradicating youth violence. This doctor treats violence as an epidemic, emphasizing prevention. Instead of relying entirely on law enforcement, CeaseFire mobilizes whole communities -- police, youth organizations, religious leaders, schools, community members -- through broad public-education campaigns.

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. CeaseFire encourages adults -- especially the clergy -- to serve as role models, and encourages gang members to get, and keep, legitimate jobs. CeaseFire's model is so successful, cities around the country are now trying to adapt it to their own communities.

This June, I met a former football coach who turned the loss of his father at a young age into an opportunity to help other fatherless young men. More than one-third of children in the United States live without their father. And research tells us that children who live without their fathers are two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience health and behavior problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior.

Mike Gottfried spoke to you about how growing up without a dad inspired him to establish Team Focus, which works to reduce the dangers of fatherlessness by providing fatherly guidance and support to struggling boys. Through Team Focus, adult male role models teach young men simple yet important lessons -- like how to tie a tie, or how to ask a girl out on a date, and actually have her say yes. (Laughter.) Mentors stay in touch with boys by phone and through personal visits. They take boys out to eat, to attend sports competitions and band contests, and they're there for these boys for those life events when it helps to have a dad.

Mentors can provide a valuable fatherly perspective. Here's a story I'm sure Mike didn't tell you. Mike remembers a phone call from one of his boys, who was distraught because his mom had caught him forging her signature on a bad report card. "Brelon," Mike said, "What you did was wrong. But let me tell you what I did once. I got my first F on a report card. I got out a pen and I made that F into a B before I took it home to my mom." (Laughter.) The only problem, Mike adds, was that he used the wrong color ink. (Laughter.) Well, after he told Brelon that story, the boy's crying turned to laughter.

At a Team Focus camp in Mobile, I met Andre Taylor. Andre's dad left when he was young, and his mom struggles with substance abuse. Andre spent years moving from one house to another, living with whoever would take him in. He was a junior in high school, and struggling with his grades, when he came to Team Focus. After Andre attended one Team Focus camp on a college campus, he started getting better grades. Early in his senior year, he called Mike to ask a favor. "I just want one thing," Andre said, "just one chance to go to college."

Andre and a Team Focus leader, Keith Howard, flew to Mississippi to meet with a football coach, who gave Andre his chance with an athletic scholarship. Afterward, Keith took Andre to their hotel, and left to run some errands before taking him out to dinner. When Keith came back, he found Andre on the phone. "What have you been doing since I left?" Keith asked. And Andre replied: "I called every family I ever lived with and told them, 'I'm going to college.'" Isn't that sweet? (Applause.) And this fall, Andre will be a freshman at Northeast Mississippi Junior College, thanks to the caring adults who believed in him. Coach Gottfried is in the audience. Mike is in the audience. Mike, where are you? (Applause.)

Across our country, caring adults are showing young people that someone believes in them -- which helps young people believe in themselves. Thanks to each one of you for doing this important work in your communities. 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 youth.

Thank you all very, very much for coming today. Thank you for your commitment to our young people. And God bless your good work. Thank you all a lot. (Applause.)

END 12:34 P.M. CDT

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