Thank you so much for inviting me. I am delighted to be with you today. Thank you “Noni” Sridhara for your kind words and warm welcome. Congratulations to Marti Evans on her new post, Al and I wish you the best. And thank you Elinor Ferdon for your years of service to the Girl Scouts.
The twentieth century has been a remarkable time for America, and women in particular. It was a century of both challenge and affirmation.
We saw democracy spread around the world and deepen here at home. We saw women win not just the vote, but more and more, our rightful place as leaders in business, government and our communities. We saw the easing of racial divisions and progress on civil rights. Time and time again, we saw Americans live up to our highest ideals by reaching deep within ourselves and not doing the easy thing, but the right thing.
These things happened because Americans, and especially women, lived by the words of the Girl Scout Law. These things happened because we were “courageous and strong.”
This is a time of unprecedented hope and opportunity for women. We see this opportunity everywhere from the locker room to the boardroom. Few organizations have done as much as the Girl Scouts to create this hope and opportunity. For as much as America has progressed, the Girl Scouts' goals have remained constant and timeless. Just like the Girl Scout cookies that all Americans love.
Today in America, nearly one out of every nine women was a Girl Scout at some time in her life. They are now CEOs, Senators, and sports stars. They are mothers and grandmothers. That includes me. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout. My daughters were too.
I recently read about a young girl, Margaret, who was raised in a warm and loving immigrant family, but she felt her heritage and traditions isolated her from her new community. So, Margaret and her Mother joined the Girl Scouts. This provided them with time together and started young Margaret on a path to her current career. You see, she was very successful at selling cookies…and year in and year out, she sold the most cookies in the troop. Today, that young girl, Margaret Karnes, has become a very successful businesswoman in a large mining company.
Stories like this are very common because the lessons learned by Girl Scouts are timeless. What girls do as Girl Scouts counts; what they do afterwards counts even more. This is where the Girl Scouts have truly made a difference.
All of you here today have earned your badges, and helped young girls earn theirs, by serving your communities. I, too, have tried to live my own life in accordance with the Girl Scout law. I believe that politics is personal. Our public values ought to reflect our private needs. It matters what we do as citizens because government cannot do everything.
We all have private talents that we can put to use for the public good. In college and graduate school I studied psychology and hoped to be a counselor to children. Al and I got married and life took a different track. And, when we lived in Tennessee after our first daughter was born, I took a course in photography and fell in love with it. I became a photojournalist. Ever since, I have done my best to combine my love for photography with my experience as a counselor to bring to light the plight of the homeless and mentally ill.
I became interested in the homeless when I was walking with my children through the streets of Washington. We came across a homeless person and my children said, “Mom, we just can't leave her there.” My children recognized the need to help her. It was my responsibility as a parent to find ways for each of us to play a role in finding solutions. They were able to help by making sandwiches at a local soup kitchen. I volunteered—and still do—with Health Care for the Homeless—a mobile health care van that goes directly to where the homeless are and provides them with the medical care they need.
Ten years ago, I headed a project with other photographers to author a book to bring the plight of the homelessness to light. Through the lens of photography, we were able to show the many faces of homelessness: the men and women, the children, the families.
This year, I have been working on a photo exhibition with the National Alliance to End Homelessness and a group of committed photographers. The photographs focus on the solutions to homelessness. I can tell you it shows the homeless for who they are--survivors who manifest strength and dignity in the midst of adversity. It also honors many of the activists, caregivers, and ordinary citizens who move people from the streets, to shelters, and to their own homes.
I have also worked to erase the stigma that is associated with the mentally ill. As Al and I have traveled around the country these past few months talking to young people about their lives and concerns. Almost all of them said that they knew kids who were troubled. Most knew kids who were depressed, or had attempted suicide. Suicide kills more than 30,000 Americans a year—one person every 17 minutes. Some knew kids who were openly discussing violence. And one student said to me, “My friends know they need help, and we know they need help – but they are ashamed to come forward because they fear being labeled.” This student speaks to the hard truth that exists in too many of our communities -- and in too many of our hearts -- mental illness is misunderstood and feared.
If we are serious about giving our children the chance to live up to their potential we need to erase the stigma that prevents them and their families from getting the mental health help they need. If a child has a broken arm, we would take that child to an emergency room. And if we know a child is depressed or alienated, we need to take emergency action as well. We cannot confront a problem if we cannot publicly recognize it…especially a problem that is so commonplace.
Person-by-person, family-by-family, we can break the cycle of homelessness and the stigma attached to mental illness.
Everyone can make a difference. Girl Scouts know this. Troop mothers know this. You know this. That's why you are here.
Adults and parents play a critical role in caring for children. We are the first line of protection for children. We are their best advocates. They are our proudest accomplishments. Raising three daughters and a son has been the proudest accomplishment of my life. Raising children well is the best thing a parent can do for society.
Now we all agree that government does not have all of the answers. It can put V-Chips in television sets. It can ask for voluntary ratings on network television programs, for music and the Internet. But, government alone cannot solve the most important challenges facing our country: families and communities must solve them. The most influential moral teachers in the world are mothers and fathers. Government can never be a substitute for the security of a caring community, the warm embrace of a parent's love, or the inspiring wisdom of a good teacher.
We need individuals and families; we need churches, temples and mosques; we need employers and businesses; and we need citizen activists to work together and move our country forward.
Through the Girl Scouts and other organizations that support our children, we can turn our hopes and dreams into reality. Together, as it is written in the Girl Scouts Law, we can “Make the world a better place.” Let us build an America equal to our best possibilities and our highest ideals.