THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New Orleans, Louisiana) _________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 30, 1993
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN DISCUSSION WITH STUDENTS OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE INITIATIVE Benjamin Franklin High School Courtyard New Orleans, Louisiana
11:52 A.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. It's good to see you.
How many of you are students here? Okay. And how many of you are in the Delta Service Corps? And, then, who's here from Teach For America? That's good. I've got it.
Let me, first of all, say how delighted I am to be here and how much I appreciate all of you taking a little time out to talk with me. You probably know that I am going from here over to the University of New Orleans to speak about the National Service Plan and the new direct loan plan for college students that will be announced today and will be introduced shortly into the Congress.
And I have with me today Senator Johnston and many members of your congressional delegation and your Lieutenant Governor and many state officials here and some people who have come all the way from Washington to be with us -- the Secretary of Education and General David Jones, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- a lot of people who believe in you and your future and all the other young people in this country.
And what I wanted to do today is to try to sort of set the stage for this speech that I'm going to go give, and also to listen to you a little bit about the kinds of things that you do now -- why did you get into this service, do you believe if there were more opportunities more young people would do it.
This program we're going to propose will provide opportunities for tens of thousands of young people to work before, during, or after college to build up credit against a college education, or, if they do it afterward, to pay off their college loans. It will also change the way young people borrow money to go to college so that you won't have to pay money back that you can't afford to pay back. Even if you borrow a lot of money to go to college, you'll always pay it back as a percentage of your income, so that people will be able to -- and if you're not working, you don't have to pay it back. Then you pay it back as you work. But we're going to use the tax system and make sure that you have to pay it back if you can, so there won't be all the defaults we have now. That will lower the cost of -- and the threshold of going to college for every young person in America who wants to deal with it.
So I want to increase access to college, but also it's very important for me to increase the number of people starting in our high schools who will engage in some form of service.
So I think it would be -- it would be helpful to me to know -- we can maybe start with the high school students. If you could talk a little bit about the service projects you've been involved in and why you do it and whether you think we can get a lot more people involved.
Who wants to go first?
Q I'll go first.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm a senior here at Ben Franklin Senior High School, and the program that I'm involved in is the Girl Scouts of America. And for the past four years, what I've been doing is volunteering them with -- I've stayed with the same girls for the past four years.
I started as a volunteer and now I'm a troop leader. And just the other day, this past week it was Take Our Daughters to Work Week, and we brought our girls, we brought them to an attorney's office, we brought them to a doctor's office. We want to show them that their opportunities are not limited. We want to show them that there are role models out there to get them off of that path of drugs and teenage pregnancy and that there are role models for them to follow.
It's a really great program. The girls -- once you get them out of their shell, once you get them talking, they really want to learn. They really want to make a difference. And I think that's what this whole situation is about.
There needs to be more role models. I think that's why we're all here today. That's a given. But it's not just a role model we're talking about, it's someone who wants to take an active role, someone who has the time to contribute, because that's the vital commodity that we're talking about -- time.
And so I think that by volunteering like we're talking about with the National Service Program, not only will we be allowing people to give their time up, but it will also be for a good cause. And hopefully they'll be trained to help these people, to help these children, especially. And they'll have the knowledge to help them to show them that there is a better way of life for them. Because a lot of these girls, they're from the inner cities and they have very unstable lives. And they come with so many problems, searching for help, looking for help, asking for help, almost. And someone needs to be there to listen to them, and I think that's -- hopefully, I'm achieving that goal that I'm setting up for myself. And I really think it's a good program, along with all of the other programs that we have here with us today.
But the Girl Scouts of America -- they've been in this country for a very long time, has a very long history. But I think its role is changing. We're redefining the role nowadays, because it's not only just the neighborhood girl, it's the girl from the inner city, it's the girl whose dad is unemployed, it's the girl who has no parents; it's any girl.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, one of the things that I think is good about this program is we're going to build on the organizations at work now, and set it up on a state-by-state basis. And a state can certify any program that's working in that state to be eligible to take young people for the national service program. So we're not going to create a whole new network of things. We're going to build on the programs that are working.
Anybody else? Anybody from the Delta Service Corps? Go ahead.
Q I'm with the National Summerbridge program. That's a program where high school and college students teach fifth and sixth graders from -- we teach at-risk youths, as well as non at-risk youths. And I think it's an important program, because young people are involved in education. And not only education, but teaching in a creative way and mentoring and tutoring. And in the same way Denise was talking about -- we're the role models, we're people who have done a lot in school who are willing to spend our summers teaching and volunteering and showing these kids that there is another world.
And we also bring different kids together from different backgrounds all around the city. And that's really important, because the diversity and meeting, the meeting of ideas and culture, and that's really important. I spent two years teaching and administrating and tutoring. And I'm also involved in lots of -- (inaudible) -- and organizations around school. We have many clubs that go to the Methodist Home for Children who will do to the Christmas party, and we do food drives.
I think there are people out there willing to commit their time. And if they knew that this was a way to fund their education, there would be even more. Because maybe people right now would say right now, well, they are working on regular jobs to pay for college. But if they could be working and paying off college in the community, that's just like a -- benefit.
THE PRESIDENT: Anyone else?
Q (inaudible) -- my junior year, and I was involved in the Nestle, their Invest in youths program -- and the Nestle Corporation gave a $10,000 grant and a council of high school students was set up to decide how to spend it. And sitting down and going through and making up priorities.
We ended up with the $10,000. We spent $7,000 at a homeless shelter, and we bought them new kitchen equipment, and then we went down and we actually served the lunch on this equipment. And we spent the rest of the money renovating a local park. It was just an incredible feeling to go down there.
THE PRESIDENT: And how many young people were involved in the project?
Q We started out with about 40, and then through attrition, we ended up with about eight or 10 of us at the end. But it was just a great feeling to go down there and do that.
THE PRESIDENT: What did you learn about homeless people?
Q That they're just like us. That they're families and that they want to succeed as badly as we do. And that there are more of them in the city than I ever thought possible. The line for that lunch just kept going forever.
Q I'm with Delta Service Corps. It's a great program. It is a national demonstration model for the country. We're into building a coalition between Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. And what we're trying to do is promote an ethic of civic responsibility through community service. And we're doing that by dealing with already existing agencies. (Inaudible) -- citizens and agencies that can also choose in their community to serve their community. We also get (inaudible) -- benefits and a stipend.
We do promote (inaudible) -- agents from 17 on up, and we want to be able to incorporate those who are in high school, those who are going to college, already in college, and those who are out. I'm out. I'm 27 years old. I graduated in '90 at State University. I never thought I'd be in a service industry. I started out in the hotel industry. It's great. It's a way that not only you can prepare for your future with the experience that you're getting, (inaudible) -- you already have, and also be able to get a decent job that you can pay for the rest of your college tuition. So it ties into the whole idea of you having the big picture and how community service can connect with that big picture.
Q It occurred to me something you haven't mentioned, and that was when we're with volunteer organizations, we are surrounded by people who are your own age or thereabout, and are a bunch of doers. There's all this energy. I know Americans -- we have a lot of energy all of the time. People are always getting things done. They're giving you new ideas to build from, and you're gaining from those ideas and going off on your own, and there's a lot of support. A program like the one you're talking about will just spread that throughout the nation. Meanwhile, you have things like drug abuse and pregnancy, it's going to give people's names and stories to put with those words that they read in the newspaper. And as you go on in your life, will never forget that, just how important that is.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you have a feeling in the Teach For America program that you're actually helping people change their lives?
Q Sure. I mean, as a teacher you have so many responsibilities, and you see your kids for -- I see my kids for an hour a day because I teach high school. And when I think back about people who influenced me, I can pick out teachers. A lot of people can do that. And now we're in that position.
Q I'm a sixth grade teacher. I'm also with Teach For America. I truly believe that I've had an awesome opportunity to help my children to grow outside of the classroom as well. I took my class to Jazzfest last week. Our lesson was in diversity in music and things like that. They had an opportunity to meet a couple of local rock and rollers. And the day after they met the guys, the guys were on the front page of the paper. This is a friend of mine in town, and he just happened to -- the kids just really respond to people who will take the extra time. Teach For America people have taken a lot of extra time, and teaching requires a lot. And the program is very supportive of people who are under that stressful 80-some hour a week time-taking that it takes. And that's what's great about the organization and what will be great about a national service plan.
There's support there. You can take an 80-hour week and get in there and do it, and that's what's required is help. And that's what they do.
THE PRESIDENT: The Teach For America program has worked very well. And I hope that -- this should help increase the recruitment, because you'll get some credit against whatever your accumulated college loans are to go do that.
What about you? What are you doing?
Q I'm from VISTA, which is Volunteers In Service To America. And I serve in the literacy program, called Project Learning. It's adult literacy. The area I live, I work in Homer, which is very near the Gulf, so there's a high, high illiteracy rate. And just with my own experience, seen just the incredible need down there. We look at a lot of food stamp recipients and just this vicious circle, the poverty circle just keeps turning round and round. And -- the only way to get out of that is (inaudible) -- education.
So, of course, we try to get it at the end of the line where they're -- (inaudible) -- I'm very against this whole social promotion that goes on, still, today, and I'm trying to fight -- and I am going to go to Teach For America right after this, because that was my whole goal with that, is to provide good teachers in this area, teachers who really care.
And so, what Project Learn does is, we provide tutors. We have -- we use the Loboc(sp.) method of teaching, which is an international method. And we teach the volunteers. We train them. They're certified tutors. At the end of that, we -- (inaudible) -- and so that's what (inaudible) -- do this, and we do a lot of public relations and we're just (inaudible) -- and I also -- (inaudible) -- another thing I've done just on my own is tutoring in an after school program in the project. I think it's -- (inaudible) -- but it's called the -- (inaudible) -- program. And that's a program I'd like to see increased, not only here but all over the nation. Because these kids, they grow up with drugs, violence. I mean, they hear shots throughout the -- (inaudible) -- I think it's just -- I don't know how you can function in school when you've got to worry about you getting shot at night or whatever.
Those kids are tough to work with. They really are. But I love them to death. I've got first- and second-graders,a and I come out of there with 10 gray hairs every time. But they're just wonderful students. I'm going to miss them terribly when they leave. But I just really think that those types of programs need to be increased. And I just think they're great.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, one of the things that we discovered when we started trying to put this national service program together is that there were a whole lot of programs like that, that had been funded at a very limited level, and one government agency or another, no one had ever put them altogether and figured out how to get them all to work together. It's one of the things we're trying to do.
Another thing I want to say about the literacy issue is that when I was governor of my state, I devoted a lot of time to trying to dramatically increase the number of people who would go back to get their GED and get into adult literacy programs. We had a huge increase. And one of the things that we can now tell those folks, too, is, if you're involved in any kind of service program, you can earn credit to go on after high school. But you can't get any money until you get your GED, which I think is important. That will sort of reinforce that.
Q Just to talk about what you had talked about before, about having states be responsible for certifying your local agency, through mobilization at Xavier, which is our community service organization on campus, we have an opportunity to work with the youth in the community, but also work with local agencies. I think that's a real positive part of this, is that you're going to give the local agencies some type of ownership in this to give the support and not to worry about being controlled on the federal side and bring it down to the state side. And I think that's something that needs to be kept in this whole opportunity. I think you'll find that you'll have a lot more volunteers that are a lot more open and willing to do whatever it takes to get this started.
THE PRESIDENT: That's great.
Q I do agree with a lot of what was being said here today, but my concern is, I've been involved in the community for the last five or six years. I've been a tutor, mentor, worked at senior citizen homes, soup kitchens and things like that. But when I think of community service, the first thing that I think of is the community. And I think that the community is the most important thing, aspect of this whole program that you're looking at here. And I think they ought to play a leading role in assessing the needs in the government program.
I think (inaudible) -- 1,000 volunteers into the community, because I have worked with small landlords organizations, and I've seen small organizations grow. And my experience is that grassroots organizations are more effective. I've seen organizations lose their effectiveness. And I think that that ought to be a major concern to you is, talk to the people in your community to find out what they actually need and not send somebody into the community and assess their needs for them. Because they know exactly what it is they need.
So I think that they should play a role in everything that happens. Another thing I'm concerned about is, I mentioned sending 400,000 volunteers into communities. By offering students this financial incentive (inaudible) --job situation, we're graduating this year, and I'm not secure at a job. And I'm sure -- I mean, you know the situation.
I think that by having this alternative, what we will see that is that the number of students who aren't genuinely concerned about improving the conditions that people live in will be leaning towards this program, this national service program, just because they can knock out some loans. And there, I think, also you may lose some effectiveness in the programs.
THE PRESIDENT: You might, but first, you raise two issues. Let me respond to the first one. I, 100 percent, agree with you about having to be community-based. That's why we went out of our way not to create some big new federal bureaucracy, but to require the states to have community representatives on a board that can just certify a project in a community that's plainly working, because otherwise this whole thing is going to fail. There's no way we know what's good for your home town or mine or anybody else's, of the federal government.
The second thing is -- that may be right. You may have more young people -- I hope you do have more young people coming into the service. It may be that some of them will be just doing it for the money. But frankly, if you look at, for example, the GI Bill, there's no evidence that people -- there's a lot of evidence people enroll in the military service in part because of the benefits, but no evidence that they do it only because they think they're going to get money on the back end, because there's still a -- you have to make the effort, you have to go to it. And I think -- or one of you alluded to this earlier -- one of you has already talked. I don't think you can be in these service programs without being changed yourself. I think it's pretty hard to go all the way through one and not get connected to the people you're trying to help. But it may be a -- I think it's worth the risk to get more people.
There's a -- I may mess up the numbers here, but there's a man here with me from New Jersey who is very successful in business named Ray Chambers who has given the rest of his life to try to help the people in his community and other communities like his community all over the country -- poor kids growing up with all kinds of problems. And we were talking about trying to get more mentors. And he said there's something like 15 million children who need these mentors and only 100,000, 150,000 of the mentors out there. So I think you have to take some risk if you put these incentives out that there will be some people doing it who may not care that much about it. But, first of all, the benefit is not so great as to look like you're just giving somebody something. And secondly, I think most people will themselves be changed by this -- will be reconnected to our country.
Q I'm a volunteer for Habitat. We help build homes for families who might not otherwise not have an opportunity to own a home of their own.
THE PRESIDENT: It's a great program.
Q Thanks. And I'm also a member of the Delta Service Corps, and I just want to tell you how important I think the Delta Service Corps and organizations like this could be to allow people right out of college or any situation in their life to do volunteer work.
I graduated school and I knew I wanted to give back, I knew I wanted to do something. And I just wanted the opportunity. And, of course, you know, you need to eat. And the Delta Service Corps, I worked for Habitat for a couple of months until I ran out of money, and I was about to leave -- not because I wanted to and not because I couldn't be important for Habitat, but I didn't have the money. But with the Delta Service Corps, I'm not putting money in the bank, but it's not that I can live hand-and-mouth, and I can still work with Habitat.
So it's just been -- and I think my experience is very representative. There are so many people coming out of school filled with idealism, and they're saying, you know, put me to use, give me the opportunity. And I understand the point raised of people who may take advantage of this. But on the flip side, so many people who are forced in their jobs that they don't really believe in because they don't know of opportunities to do otherwise.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I'm really particularly proud of the Delta Service Corps because it grew out of the work that was done a few years ago by the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and then Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois and the parts that are right along the river. And we studied the conditions of the lower Mississippi Delta, and one of the things that we urged was that some way be found to bring young people in here to this area to work. And then the legislators and the Congressmen from our states sponsored this bill that's really been very impressive. I'm glad to see all of you here. Walter, did you have --
Q Just to elaborate on what he was trying to say. The Delta Service Corps, we tried not to just place a warm body at an agency. What we do is, we do it basically by getting an application, we interview that person, we try to fit that person into the site that he's best suited for and to make sure that both the person and the organization is going to get something out of this.
We just don't say, well, we've got this person; we're going to place him here. We want to make sure that that person is suited for the organization, and he's going to contribute something to aid in the productivity of that organization.
And so through the Delta Service Corps, which is basically a model that is going on now, we've accomplished a lot. We've proven that civic duty, community -- most of the people that we have are based in their own community. Myself, I'm from Little Rock and I work right there in Little Rock at the Alternative Learning Center. And every day I see kids that grew up in the same neighborhood and go to the same junior high school -- they're some of the kids that I went to school with.
And I have friends that are teachers that say that there should be more of people volunteering to go in and be mentors toward some of these kids, because we say they're at risk and they're a lost generation, but I feel like they are just a misunderstood generation. That if we give more back into the community, that maybe these kids won't be at a risk anymore and we can help them out. And through the Delta Service Corps, we're doing that and we're helping out in a big way through -- we have a single parenthood scholarship foundation. EDA has a HIPPY program. We have all kinds of programs that are going on through the Service Corps that we have participants involved in that are doings lots of things that are helping out.
I think that the civic duty, as you were saying, putting somebody in the community that is going to help -- I sincerely believe in that, and that's what we're trying to do.
Q I'm one of those college students that have loans that have accumulated over the years, and that I'll have loans in the future when I go on to medical school. So that's why I'm hoping to use my (inaudible) -- but right now I'm -- like he said, we are involved in a lot of services that help people right now. And most of the services -- most of the programs or places or sites in Mississippi are just getting up off the ground.
Like, I'm involved in an organization called Daybreak, and it's a day shelter for the homeless. It's been open for three weeks -- no, three months -- I'm sorry. And right now we have about four weeks left for the shelter, because we are -- have been staying in a place that's free, and so we've been trying to founder another site because of all the trouble that we're having, because people don't want the homeless in their areas so they've been trying to run us out. So, mostly, what we're doing is trying to incorporate programs that we can move with us when we get ready to move. We don't have a van for transportation. And a lot of volunteers or whatever use their own cars to take people places and things like to the Welfare Department or the Veterans Administration Department -- places like this.
So most of the staff at Daybreak are from Delta Service Corps. I am one of three full-timers. And there are about five or six part-timers. And the guy -- the Director of Daybreak is always saying if it were not for Delta Service Corps volunteers, that we really wouldn't have our organization here. We have such a small staff, we wouldn't be able to stand up on our feet. Because he is the only person that is getting paid out of the entire organization. And so a lot of Delta -- because we are full-time and part-time people, we're really incorporated in building programs to support Daybreak so that when we leave, the programs will be able to function without us.
And I think that -- and another thing -- another point I would like to make about Delta Service Corps is, because they have different agencies and organizations that they work with within our organization, we network and we get help from other programs. I think Paris was asking me about information to start a transitional house here in New Orleans for the homeless. And so that's the type of -- I think that this entire thing about the national service program is going to be really great -- it's really going to be great for this country. And I just wish that the Delta Service Corps can spread out across the nation.
THE PRESIDENT: I think it may. And, certainly, things like it will. I think new organizations will spring up from the grassroots, just to go back to the point you made about that, I think that what'll happen is -- what's the most likely thing that will happen is that there will be communities where there are people like you, but there's no organization.
And when this thing comes out and young people start talking about it and thinking about it, it'll probably be much more likely that in every community in America there will be groups like this.
You know, when I hear all of you talk, one of the things that, as you know, I worry about most of the time is how to find enough jobs for the American people in a world in which we've had a difficult time in our country creating jobs and other wealthy countries are having trouble creating jobs. And a lot of the good things that happen in the economy now -- a lot of you can do this; most of you probably are proficient with computers and things like that -- a lot of the things that happen in the economy now mean that people can do more with fewer workers, because they have all this technology.
But one of the things that you cannot substitute people for are the kind of human contacts that you all are engaged in. I mean, a lot of the people problems of America can only be solved by people in very small groups, or one on one. So I think there will be a huge increase in the demand for folks like you to do what you're doing in the years ahead.
Q As a student leader, I have noticed that not only at our university, but across the country, with the economic system that we're living in, more students are looking forward to going on to bigger and better jobs and avoiding the community service and national service sector. I think with this type of program in place, it will encourage more students to get involved. (Inaudible.) -- understand what other areas are going through, but what we as individuals can do to help change that situation.
THE PRESIDENT: That's a terrific point. I know we've got to quit in a minute and I want to give you a chance to talk. But let me say that people say to me, well, can you afford this program, and what if 250,000 -- what if 500,000, what if a million young people want to do this? Well, if you think about it, think what we're paying now for the failures of the present society.
Think what we're paying now for all the young people who drop out of school, who have children when they're children, who get involved in drugs, who wind up in prisons, who can't work and draw welfare or food stamps or unemployment or who wind up in a homeless shelters. You think what its cost us now to do that.
We're living in a world where we need every person. And I agree with you. I think when people like you get out of college, you get a world-class education in a place like Tulane, if you can get people like that who still are really aware of what is going on and who understand the point you made, that homeless people are just like us.
There are a lot of kids out there in these homeless shelters. A lot of them can learn and do real well if they're given a chance. And if they do well -- this is going to affect you much more than me -- one in 10 Americans now is on food stamps. Now, you think about what your life is going to be like when you're my age, you have children getting ready to go to college if we don't reverse these trends. What's the unemployment rate in America going to be? What's your tax burden going to be? What are you going to be paying it for? What's it going to be like to be in the streets of your country?
This service thing has so much more to do with your future in a way than with mine. And I think the point you made in terrific.
I know we've got to quit, but I want to -- go ahead --
Q I just want to say, we have something (inaudible) -- we're not saying once you get them in, it doesn't matter how it takes to get them in, it doesn't matter if you pay them to get them in, drag them in by their -- (inaudible) -- once they're in and they really get to feel that great feeling that you get from serving others, then they stay, and they will be convinced (inaudible) -- the rest of their lives the tremendous feeling from helping us.
THE PRESIDENT: Good for you.
Q Thank you for visiting. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. (Applause.) You're terrific. I feel a lot better about my country every time I see young people like you. We're going to be fine. Thank you.
END12:25 P.M. CDT