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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Boys and Girls Clubs of America
National Conference
(Videotaped Remarks)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Taped in Washington, DC on May 12, 2011

     Good morning. I'm really pleased to join the First Lady and your other distinguished speakers in welcoming all of you to this important conference.

     In the many years I've worked with our nation's criminal and juvenile justice systems, my highest priority has always been the safety and welfare of our nation's young people. I think a free and just society depends on the opportunities it affords its citizens - especially its children - and opportunities are most accessible to those who feel safe and protected.

     But sadly, we know that many of our nation's kids are not safe. The National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence released in 2009 found that more than 60 percent of children in the United States have been exposed to some type of crime, abuse, or violence - either as victims or as witnesses. Two in five children experienced direct violence more than once over the course of a year. You know, this is alarming - and, frankly, it's unacceptable - and we've got to do something about it.

     At the Department of Justice, we're working really hard to address this problem. Through the Attorney General's Defending Childhood Initiative, we've launched a program to reduce children's exposure to violence and to mitigate its effects. We're also trying to better understand the causes and consequences of exposure to violence and to raise public awareness of the impact it has on our kids.

     But we can't solve this problem alone. We need you.

     For more than a century - as you well know - the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and your over 4,000 member clubs across the country have helped to give our youth a fair start in life by providing that safe place to grow and thrive. As club leaders, staff, and volunteers, you've lifted countless young people out of victimization and distress and put them on the path to becoming healthy, responsible citizens. Those same young people have grown into leaders and role models in their own right, and that's a remarkable achievement!

     My agency - the Office of Justice Programs - is proud to support you in your amazing work. Together, we've provided mentors to thousands of young people, and we joined the First Lady at the National Mentoring Summit earlier this year. We've established new clubs in disadvantaged neighborhoods. We've supported programs in public housing units and in Indian country. And we've given kids a chance to be part of activities that enrich their lives. Working hand in hand, I think we've made a difference.

     Today, we clearly face many challenges. Tough economic times have put a heavy strain on resources, both private and public, making your jobs even more difficult. Even in Washington, we're having to do more with less. But although this is a time for discipline, it's certainly not a time for despair.

     In communities across the country, I've seen unprecedented collaboration and cooperation across organizations and levels of government to meet the needs of youth. Agencies that historically have had little to say to one another are talking and sharing ideas - and working together to translate those ideas into action.

     I'm pleased that the Department of Justice is supporting these new alliances. Through our National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, the Office of Justice Programs is leading an exciting effort in six cities to develop and put into action comprehensive youth violence reduction plans. And the level of buy-in and commitment has been extraordinary. The work has depended not on large federal grants but on identifying and leveraging existing resources.

     The Forum shows what we can accomplish when we look to each other for help. I know that's not a new idea for Boys and Girls clubs. You've been tapping sources of community strength for over 100 years. And in the process, you've changed countless young lives.

     The work you do has made a world of difference, both to the kids you serve and - I'd say - to the health and prosperity of our nation. That's why I'm proud of our partnership, and I'm thankful for all that you do.


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