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Promoting Help for Prisoners' Children

Bushes Visit NW Charter School to Pledge Support for Mentoring

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 2, 2005; Page B02

President Bush chose a Northwest Washington charter school as his forum to discuss Helping America's Youth, which aims to redirect wayward young people who may have one or both parents in prison.

Introduced at Paul Junior High Public Charter School yesterday by first lady Laura Bush, who also spoke, Bush addressed hundreds of representatives of faith and community organizations. He talked about the program, which he introduced during the State of the Union address, designed to provide grants to organizations that promote mentoring programs aimed at keeping youths out of gangs and off drugs.

First lady Laura Bush, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, introduced the president at Paul Junior High Public Charter School. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

"You learn a single soul can make a difference in a young person's life," the president said from the auditorium stage, which had a backdrop of a blackboard and other classroom props.

"Americans can change one heart, one soul at a time," he said, adding that the federal government gave $55 million in grants last year to 221 organizations involved in mentoring programs. "Our job is to find those who are willing to be part of the solution."

The effort will be led by the first lady. She said she would convene a summit at the White House in the fall for researchers and community leaders to discuss the best strategies to reach young people.

The president reiterated his support for providing federal funds to community organizations that are seeking to strengthen families. He said he was interested in programs that provide job training and education to fathers who want to remain emotionally connected to their children and programs that attempt to keep marriages together.

He repeated one of his familiar themes: Faith-based organizations -- not government -- can lead the way in solving social problems. He said government should be an advocate of faith-based programs, not a roadblock.

"The amazing thing is that all this happens without government," he said. Government "can hand out money, but it can't put love in a person's heart."

Bush said he was interested in recruiting mentors for children of middle school age, particularly those with a parent incarcerated. "If your dad or mother's in prison, you're likely to end up there yourself," he said.

He introduced Michaela Huberty, 10, a fourth-grader from St. Paul, Minn., whose father has been in and out of prison. Michaela, he said, has been mentored by a teacher and has decided that she wants to pursue teaching as a profession.

"We go swimming, to the movies, to basketball games and make scrapbooks," Michaela said after the speech. "She's a good teacher and a good friend."

The mentor, Jennifer Kalenborn, who came to Washington with Michaela for the ceremony, said Michaela has changed from an aimless girl to an ambitious student in a gifted and talented program. "I encourage her to go to college and set goals," Kalenborn said.

Bush called on mentors to step forward and for community organizations to apply for federal grants.

Rodney K. Taylor, a District firefighter who founded the Working Men Who Care Inc., which mentors children of prisoners, said he welcomes the prospect of getting federal funds for the program.

"We need money to do background investigations for our mentors and funds for activities for the kids," Taylor said.

Al Lawrence, national director for special projects at the Prison Fellowship Ministries, said, "You can't expect [the federal government] to pay for all this. The solution to the problems of young people can come only from the outpouring of the heart."

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