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First Lady's Initiative Aimed At Providing Stability for Youths

By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page A04

PITTSBURGH, March 7 -- President Bush and first lady Laura Bush joined up Monday at a community college here to promote their plan to help at-risk youths, especially those living in big cities, and announce a White House conference on the issue to be held this autumn.

"We have got to make sure that the great strength of our country -- the hearts and souls of our citizens -- are directed in such a way that every child can be saved," Bush told local residents and community leaders at the Community College of Allegheny County. "We are worried about gangs, we are worried about drugs, we are worried about bad choices."

First lady Laura Bush, introduced by President Bush, said the White House youth proposal includes encouraging stable two-parent households. (Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)

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The president's solution is to promote a new, modestly funded initiative aimed at creating safer neighborhoods, more stable families and better educational opportunities for at-risk youths, particularly boys.

The first couple toured a Catholic after-school program at the Providence Family Support Center here that provides tutoring and other assistance to teenagers and younger students in the city. Afterward, the Bushes touted the after-school program and the broader White House campaign to help young people.

"The truth of the matter is I am the introducer," Bush said as he presented the first lady as the driving force behind the policy.

"This is a real role reversal," Laura Bush said. "I have listened to a million of his speeches. Now he has to listen to one of mine."

She detailed the White House plan to make grants to faith-based and other community organizations to encourage stable two-parent households and efforts to cut down on drug use and violence. This is part of a broader White House campaign to give religious groups a larger role in administering social services.

Bush's 2006 budget contains $385 million -- a $150 million increase over the current budget -- for programs to mentor children, help former prisoners and drug addicts, and provide support for young mothers. The fund, which makes grants to community groups, is slated for an increase, even as the White House is proposing cuts in funding for many traditional anti-poverty programs.

The Bushes highlighted a plan to spend $50 million to mentor children of prisoners, which the administration estimates is enough to help more than 100,000 children over three years. In documents sent to reporters, the White House also noted an effort to double abstinence-only sex education programs over the next three years. Critics charge that Bush is cutting other programs that have been effective helping teens, including for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

"Children and parents need to know where they can get help," Laura Bush said. White House aides said the president is exploring additional ways to assist faith-based groups help children, perhaps by calling for more vouchers to religious groups later this year. Laura Bush said she would unveil a new government guide for helping community leaders at this fall's White House conference on Helping America's Youth.

"Community groups will tell us what is working in the field," she said. "The more children hear positive messages from adults, the less likely they are to engage in risky behavior."

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