Bush touts program mentoring prisoners' children

December 2, 2008 4:34:20 PM PST
President George W. Bush, trying to emphasize the softer side of his policy record before leaving office, on Tuesday thanked volunteers who have served as mentors to children of prisoners. "These youngsters have ambitions and goals," Bush said after a private discussion with a few children and their mentors in North Carolina. "They want to go to college. They want to make a difference. And I suspect that the mentors will be anxiously following the career of someone they've been able to help."

Bush popped into the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Greensboro - which has worked with Youth Focus Inc., a nonprofit agency - to match 220 children of prisoners with adult mentors. The program is part of a national initiative, championed by Bush, that has provided mentors to more than 110,000 children.

In support, the Department of Health and Human Services has awarded more than $175 million in grants to 320 organizations in all 50 states, the District of Colombia and Puerto Rico. Bush encouraged anyone hearing about the mentoring program to consider taking part in it.

Making a difference, Bush said, "doesn't take much. All it takes is time. It takes a little bit of extra love."

The White House used the stop to emphasize Bush's efforts to support community groups as partners in solving problems.

The president said people who help children also help their country, "one heart, one soul at a time."

When Bush landed at Piedmont Triad International Airport, he greeted Donna Hudson Turner of High Point. Bush gave Turner, 76, the President's Volunteer Service Award, honoring 25,000 hours of volunteer service with Hospice of the Piedmont. Turner started her hospice work in 1983.

Turner, who came out to the tarmac in her wheelchair that she's used since a stroke in 2003, stood to greet Bush. She said afterward that it was an honor to meet him and receive the award.

"I just stopped shaking," she said a few hours after meeting the president. "I'm just a private person, and I don't like attention. I just want to do my stuff."

Back in Washington, the president was spending the evening at a reception honoring workers and hundreds of volunteers from the Office of Presidential Advance. The "advance" workers handle the logistics for presidential events around the country and abroad, a task that involves preparation long before the president shows up and then coordination with media, security and other agencies on site to make sure Bush's appearances go smoothly.

The president and Vice President Dick Cheney were to offer their thanks to workers at the private event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. First lady Laura Bush and Cheney's wife, Lynne, were also attending.