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Mrs. Laura Bush Hosts Fifth Regional Conference on Helping America's Youth
Mrs. Laura Bush delivered the keynote address at the fifth regional conference on Helping America's Youth at Dallas Baptist University on November 8, 2007. The Helping America's Youth initiative is a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the challenges facing our youth, particularly at-risk boys, and to motivate caring adults to connect with youth in three key areas: family, school and community. The two-day Dallas conference featured training on the on-line Community Guide to Helping America's Youth, and expert panelist presentations on the current status of youth and successful methods for making a difference in the lives of America's youth.
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, said Mrs. Bush. 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.
Panel discussions at the Conference focused on special populations within the region including Hispanic and Native American youth as well as former gang members and ex-offenders. Panelist Alma Riojas Morales, President and CEO of MANA, a National Latina Organization, spoke about how mentors in her organization are helping Hispanic girls to avoid risky behaviors. MANAs Hermanitas (Little Sisters) program matches Hispanic girls with mentors who encourage the girls to take pride in themselves, their families and their culture and to stay in school. The girls and their mentors go on museum outings and Girl Scout trips and volunteers hold health workshops that educate girls about teen pregnancy. A Harvard study published this year showed that the Hermanitas program is showing success. The program helped change girls attitudes about drugs and alcohol and among the girls studied there was little initiation of drug or alcohol use.
Marcus Guinn focused his remarks on the Native American youth population in the region, noting that the Native youth suicide rate is three times the national average for youth ages 15-24. He encouraged Native youth to reconnect with the Native value system that respects life and the wisdom of elders.
The final panelist, Omar Jahwar, Founder and President of Vision Regeneration, Inc., gave an overview of his organizations efforts to engage ex-offenders in positively impacting young lives. Reformed young men and women mentor teens at risk for a life of violence, drugs, and crime. The organizations philosophy is that redemption comes best from those who have been transformed and redeemed.
The first day of the Helping America's Youth conference provided training on the Community Guide to Helping America's Youth, a web-based guide to assist communities in coordinating resources and tracking effective programs, to nearly 200 community partners from Texas and Oklahoma. On the second day of the conference, Mrs. Bush delivered the keynote address and joined local, regional and state leaders for a speaker series on the challenges facing youth and successful approaches to positive youth development.
Mrs. Bush traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana in June 2006; to Denver, Colorado in August 2006; to Nashville, TN in April 2007 and to Saint Paul, MN in August 2007 for previous regional conferences on Helping America's Youth. These five conferences have reached youth-serving coalitions in 30 states.
To watch the November 8, 2007 regional conference or for more information on the initiative, please visit www.helpingamericasyouth.gov.