President Obama this afternoon praised a New Hampshire nonprofit that helps poor people buy fuel-efficient reliable cars in a White House event designed to highlight innovative programs across the country.
Obama named Robert Chambers, president and co-founder of Bonnie CLAC, who attended the event. He came up with the idea for the group after working at an auto dealership and seeing low-income individuals forced to pay high interest rates when they purchased cars, the White House said.
Bonnie CLAC helps clients build their credit records and offers advice on selecting and buying vehicles. Since its founding in 2001, Bonnie CLAC has guaranteed more than $12 million in loans for more than 1,200 clients, the White House said.
Such groups, Obama said, hold the promise of finding solutions to persistent problems and to meeting unprecedented challenges because government can't do everything.
The president paid tribute to leaders and staffers of nonprofits. "The hours are long and the pay could be better, let's face it," he said.
But, he added, "You teach us there's no such thing as a lost cause."
(His full remarks are below, followed by the White House release.)
Obama also highlighted the Harlem Children's Zone, which includes a preschool and charter school; HopeLab, a California group that helps young people with chronic illnesses; and Genesys Works, a Houston-based nonprofit that trains and employs high school students to get them into major corporations
"These programs and others like them have the potential to make progress in education, training, health care, and other areas in more communities across the country," the White House said. "The President will call on foundations, philanthropists, and others in the private sector to partner with the government to find and invest in these innovative, high-impact solutions. Now more than ever, we need to build cross-sector partnerships to transform our schools, improve the health of Americans, and employ more people in clean energy and other emerging industries. These community solutions will help build the new foundation for the economy and the nation."
It's fitting that we're here today to talk about what each of us can do to lift up this nation, because our troops' sacrifice challenges all of us to do what we can do to be better citizens. That's what the people that you've heard from already are doing every single day.
So I want to start off thanking Geoffrey Canada, Robert Chambers, Pat Christen -- who's here with one of Hope Lab's student testers, Richard Ross -- Richard, wave to everybody -- (laughter) -- for speaking with us about the extraordinary work their organizations are doing in their communities. And I want to thank Richard and Vanessa Nunez for sharing their stories with us today. Thank you very much. You both clearly have very bright futures ahead of you.
I want to acknowledge our outstanding Education Secretary, Arne Duncan. He's worth giving a round of applause. (Applause.) As well as, if I'm not mistaken, Congressman Jim Moran is here. There he is, right here in the front, with his daughter, Dorothy. (Applause.) I want to thank Steve Goldsmith for moderating. We were discussing the fact that at Harvard -- Vanessa, you were there -- how long ago was that? Fifteen years ago? We were together on a conference talking about this very issue. And so it's nice to see Steve, one of the outstanding mayors at the time, and now continuing to do great work helping people to think about how we can all fulfill our civic responsibilities more effectively. So thank you very much.
I also want to thank Dave Cieslewicz -- I want to make sure I say that properly -- of Madison, Wisconsin, and Mayor Sara Presler of Flagstaff, Arizona, for their commitment as well. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank all of you here today for everything you're doing to find new solutions to some of our oldest, toughest problems. I know what you do is not easy. I know that for many of you, the hours are long, the pay could be better -- let's face it. But I also know the difference that each of you make. I know the lives that you change every single day. You teach us that there's no such thing as a lost cause if you're willing to be creative, and challenge the conventional wisdom, and take some risks -- if you're willing to try, and fail, and then try again until you find something that works. And today, I want to recognize that pioneering spirit and thank you all for the contributions that you're making to our communities.
What you all do is important in any year. But at this particular moment, when we're facing challenges unlike any we've seen in our lifetime, it's absolutely critical, because while we're working hard to rebuild our economy and help people who are struggling, let's face it, there's only so much that Washington can do. Government can't do everything and be everywhere -- nor should it be.
For example, government can help rebuild schools -- and Arne Duncan is working as hard as anybody -- but we need new ways to teach our children and train our teachers and get parents more involved in their children's education. Government can reform our health care system, but we need innovative approaches to help people manage their illnesses and lead healthier lives. Government can invest in clean energy, but we need new initiatives to get people to train for green jobs and make their homes and offices more energy-efficient.
So if anyone out there is waiting for government to solve all their problems, they're going to be disappointed. Because ultimately, the best solutions don't come from the top-down, not from Washington; they come from the bottom-up in each and everyone one of our communities.
As some of you know, I first saw this years ago when I worked as a community organizer in Chicago -- neighborhoods devastated by steel plant closings. And I spent hours going door to door, meeting with anyone who would talk to me, asking people about their struggles and what an organization could do to help.
And it was slow, laborious going. We had plenty of setbacks and failed more often than we succeeded. But we listened to the people in the community and we learned from them and got them engaged and got them involved. And slowly, block by block, we began to turn those neighborhoods around, fighting for job training and better housing and more opportunity for young people.
The lesson I learned then still holds true today: that folks who are struggling don't simply need more government bureaucracy; that top-down, one-size-fits-all program usually doesn't end up fitting anybody. People don't need somebody out in Washington to tell them how to solve their problems, especially when the best solutions are often right there in their own neighborhoods, just waiting to be discovered.
So right now, in communities across America, people are hard at work developing and running programs that could be the next Harlem Children's Zone or the next Genesys Works or the next Hope Lab, and idealistic young people like Wendy Kopp who refused to listen to the skeptics years ago and pushed ahead to bring her vision for Teach for America to life.
We've got young-at-heart people like Robert Chambers, who finish out careers in business or health care or education, and instead of transitioning into retirement, they're just too busy, they're too restless, so they come back for an encore, plowing a lifetime of experience into helping people in need. We've got people from all backgrounds, all walks of life succeeding where others have failed; getting real, measurable results; changing the way we think about some of our toughest problems.
The bottom line is clear: Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots -- and government shouldn't be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts. Instead of wasting taxpayer money on programs that are obsolete or ineffective, government should be seeking out creative, results-oriented programs like the ones here today and helping them replicate their efforts across America.
So if the Harlem Children's Zone can turn around neighborhoods in New York, then why not Detroit, or San Antonio, or Los Angeles or Indianapolis? If Bonnie Clac can help working people purchase cars and manage their finances in New Hampshire, then they can probably do it in Vermont or all across New England, or all across America.
Now it's not going to be easy to scale up some of these great ideas. If it was easy, you would have already done it and you wouldn't be here today -- except maybe to just check out the White House. (Laughter.) It's hard. But it's also critical. And it's absolutely possible if we're willing to work together to give organizations like these the resources they need to reach their fullest potential and have their fullest impact, and if we're able to ensure that best practices are shared all across the country, that we've set up a strong network of ideas. And that's precisely the idea behind the $50 million innovation fund included in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act -- an initiative designed to assist community solutions like these that we're asking Congress to fund this year.
We're going to use this fund to find the most promising non-profits in America. We'll examine their data and rigorously evaluate their outcomes. We'll invest in those with the best results that are most likely to provide a good return on our taxpayer dollars. And we'll require that they get matching investments from the private sector -- from businesses and foundations and philanthropists -- to make those taxpayer dollars go even further.
And today, I'm announcing that I'll be asking Melody Barnes, who is our director of the Domestic Policy Council, and our innovation team to lead this process, traveling across the country to discover and evaluate the very best programs in our communities.
And we won't just be looking at the usual suspects in the usual places. We won't just be seeking the programs that everybody already knows about, but we also want to find those hidden gems that haven't yet gotten the attention they deserve. And we'll be looking in all sorts of communities -- rural, urban, and suburban -- in every region of this country, because we know that great ideas and outstanding programs are everywhere -- and it's up to us to find them.
We're going to take this new approach, this new way of doing business, government-wide. So we've already set up a What Works Fund at the Department of Education -- $650 million in the Recovery Act that we'll be investing in the most successful, highest-impact initiatives in our school districts and communities. It's not just going to be the usual formulas here. From pioneering teacher training programs and efforts to bring new technologies into our schools, to early learning programs and programs to help at-risk kids -- these are the kinds of initiatives that Arne and his staff at the department are looking to support.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, we're working on a new home-visiting initiative connecting nurses and other trained professionals with at-risk families to ensure that children get a healthy, safe, and smart start to life. We'll be seeking out the very best programs to achieve those goals -- ones with the strongest record of success -- and we'll test promising approaches to see what works and what doesn't.
So all of this represents a new kind of partnership between government and the non-profit sector. But I can tell you right now, that partnership isn't complete, and it won't be successful, without help from the private sector. And that's why I'm glad that there are some deep pockets in the audience here -- foundations, corporations, and individuals. You need to be part of this effort, as well. And that's my challenge to the private sector today.
Our non-profits can provide the solutions. Our government can rigorously evaluate these solutions and invest limited taxpayer dollars in ones that work. But we need those of you from the private sector to step up, as well. We need you to provide that critical seed capital to launch these ideas. We need you to provide those matching funds to help them grow. And we need you to serve as a partner, providing strategic advice and other resources to help them succeed.
If we work together -- if we all go all-in here -- think about the difference we can make. Think about the impact we could have with just the organizations represented in this room.
We've got Jim McCorkell here from Admission Possible, a group that helps promising young people from low-income families attend college. Ninety-nine percent of the Admission Possible class of 2008 got into college -- 99 percent. (Applause.) Where's Jim? Where's Jim? There he is back there. The vast majority stay in college and earn their degrees. Admission Possible operates in just two states now. So imagine if it was 10, or 20, or 50.
We've got Alfa Demmellash here from Rising Tide Capital. Where is Alfa? Right over there. Did I pronounce your name right? Good. When your name is Barack Obama, you're sensitive to these things. (Laughter.) So Alfa is with Rising Tide Capital, an organization that helps struggling mom-and-pop entrepreneurs get loans, run their businesses and improve their profit margins. Seventy percent of their clients are single moms. All of them rely on their businesses to support their families. So far Rising Tide has helped 250 business owners in the state of New Jersey. So imagine if they could help 500 or 1,000 or more all across America.
If we empower organizations like these, think about the number of young people like Vanessa and Richard whose lives we can change; the number of families whose livelihoods we can boost; the number of struggling communities we can bring back to life.
In the end, that's what this effort is about. It's not about the old partisan lines in the sand. We know there's nothing Democratic or Republican about just doing what works. So we want to cast aside worn ideological debates and focus on what really helps people in their daily lives. That's what each and every one of you are doing all across America. For that, I honor you, I thank you, and I look forward to working with you in the days and months and years ahead to address the urgent challenges of our time.
Thank you very much, everybody. Good luck.
WHITE HOUSE RELEASE
President Obama To Highlight Innovative Programs that are Transforming Communities Across the Nation
President Calls on Foundations, Philanthropists, and the Private Sector to Invest in Community Solutions
Today, President Obama will highlight innovative non-profits programs that are making a difference in communities across the country. Programs such as Harlem Children’s Zone, Teach for America, HopeLab, Genesys Works, and Bonnie CLAC have developed models that are demonstrating results. These programs and others like them have the potential to make progress in education, training, health care, and other areas in more communities across the country.
The President will call on foundations, philanthropists, and others in the private sector to partner with the government to find and invest in these innovative, high-impact solutions. Now more than ever, we need to build cross-sector partnerships to transform our schools, improve the health of Americans, and employ more people in clean energy and other emerging industries. These community solutions will help build the new foundation for the economy and the nation.
The President also asked Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and her innovation team to search outside of Washington for the programs that can most effectively transform communities and change lives.
Background on the people who will share their stories during the conversation on community solutions:
Geoff Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone
Since 1990, Mr. Canada has been the President and Chief Executive Officer for Harlem Children's Zone. Mr. Canada grew up in the South Bronx in a poor, sometimes-violent neighborhood. Despite his troubled surroundings, Mr. Canada was able to succeed academically, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College and a master's degree in education from the Harvard School of Education. After graduating from Harvard, Mr. Canada decided to work to help children who, like himself, were disadvantaged by their lives in poor, embattled neighborhood. In 2006, Mr. Canada was selected by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as co-chair of The Commission on Economic Opportunity, which was asked to formulate a plan to significantly reduce poverty. In 2007, he was appointed co-chair of New York State Governor's Children's Cabinet Advisory Board.
Harlem Children's Zone, Inc. has experienced incredible growth, from the number of children served to the breadth of services provided. In 1997, the agency began a network of programs for a 24-block area: the Harlem Children's Zone Project. In 2007, the Zone Project grew to almost 100 blocks and serves more than 8,000 children and more than 4,100 adults. Over the years, the organization introduced several ground-breaking efforts including the Baby College parenting workshops, the Harlem Gems pre-school program, the HCZ Asthma Initiative, which teaches families to better manage the disease, the Promise Academy, a high-quality public charter school; and an obesity program to help children stay healthy.
Pat Christen, HopeLab
HopeLab is a nonprofit organization in Redwood City, California, founded by board chair and philanthropist Pam Omidyar. HopeLab combines intensive research with cutting-edge technology to improve the health and quality of life of young people with chronic illnesses. HopeLab is dedicated to finding solutions that have broad impact, and works closely with tweens, teens and young adults to create fun, innovative products that meet their needs. Among them is Re-Mission, HopeLab's groundbreaking video game for young people with cancer. Data show that that Re-Mission improves treatment adherence and other key health outcomes, which were recently published in the medical journal Pediatrics. HopeLab is also developing products to combat sedentary behavior in children as a way to fight the effects of childhood obesity.
Pat Christen is the President and CEO of HopeLab. She will share the story of Richard Ross, a 12-year-old seventh grader, who is one of HopeLab's "kid experts" testing a new product called gDitty. The product is designed to motivate middle-school kids to be more physically active. Kids wear the gDitty activity monitor, then connect it to the gDitty website to redeem activity points for rewards. gDitty is another example of how HopeLab is harnessing the power and appeal of technology to measurably improve kids' health.
Robert Chambers, Bonnie CLAC
Robert Chambers is the president and co-founder of Bonnie CLAC. His experience working at an automobile dealership, watching low-income individuals forced to pay high interest rates when they purchased cars, led him to the form the organization. Headquartered in New Hampshire, Bonnie CLAC is an award-winning not-for-profit organization that helps people from all walks of life acquire fuel-efficient, affordable and reliable vehicles.
Bonnie CLAC’s program helps clients build creditworthiness and provides car selection and purchase assistance to help low- and moderate-income individuals create savings, improve their access to health care, and reduce carbon emissions into the environment. Since its founding in 2001, Bonnie CLAC has guaranteed over $12 million in loans for more than 1200 clients, most of whom fall below HUD low-income guidelines.
Vanessa Nunez, Genesys Works
Vanessa Nunez grew up in a home where a single-mother raised her three girls. Since she was 13 years old, she worked to help support the family, sometime two jobs at a time. Vanessa was working as a hostess at a restaurant, called the Aquarium, when she heard about Genesys Works. She came into the program in 2007 and went through Genesys’ Works’ rigorous year-long training program. After successfully completing their training program, Vanessa was assigned to work with a new Genesys Works partner, Marathon Oil, a Fortune 500 company. At the time, Vanessa was only one of only two students there. This year they will have 10 students in that company. Vanessa now attends the University of Houston and is still working in the corporate information technology department at Marathon Oil.
Genesys Works is a Houston-based non-profit organization that trains and employs high school students to perform technical services for major corporations. Founded in 2002, the organization seeks to enable economically disadvantaged high school students to enter the economic mainstream by providing them with the knowledge and work experience required to succeed as technical professionals. Over 95 percent of Genesys Works graduates go on to college. Genesys Works has locations in St. Paul, Minnesota and Houston, TX and is planning to open a Chicago location in 2010.
Stephen Goldsmith earned a national reputation for innovations in government while serving two terms as mayor of Indianapolis. He transformed the delivery of city services; his efforts to revitalize urban neighborhoods through creative partnerships with community and faith based organizations have been held up as a national model.
Goldsmith is Daniel Paul Professor of Government and director of the Innovations in American Government Program, at Harvard’s Kennedy School where he hosts an Executive Session on Transforming Cities through Civic Entrepreneurship. He also serves as the vice-chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
He served as mayor of Indianapolis from 1992 to 1999. Prior to this time he served as Marion County district attorney for twelve years.
Below is a list of expected attendees at today’s event on Community Solutions:
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS:
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA)
Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Budget Director Peter Orszag
Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone
Robert Chambers, Bonnie CLAC
Pat Christen, HopeLab
Dave Cieslewicz, Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin
Steve Goldsmith, Harvard Kennedy School
Vanessa Nunez, Genesys Works
Sara Presler, Mayor of Flagstaff, Arizona
OTHER EXPECTED ATTENDEES INCLUDE:
(in alphabetical order by last name)
Raolat Abdulai, New Freedmen's Clinic
Ellen Alberding, Joyce Foundation
Rafael Alvarez, Genesys Works
Michael Anders, Morgan Stanley
Hector Avellaneda, Genesys Works
Diana Aviv, Independent Sector
Richard Barth, KIPP Schools
Josh Bekenstein, Bain and Company
Kara Bobroff, Native American Community Academy
David Bornstein, Author
Jeff Bradach, Bridgespan Group
Arthur Brooks, American Enterprise Institute
Elliott Brown, Springboard Forward
Michael Brown, City Year
Tony Brunswick, LIFT
Andrew Butcher, GTECH
Kelley Caffarelli, Home Depot Foundation
Geoffrey Canada Jr., Harlem Children's Zone
Dan Cardinali, Communities in Schools
James Cleveland, JumpStart
AnnMaura Connoly, City Year
Dr. Charlotte Cowan, Author
Ann Cramer, IBM
Cameron Cushman, Kauffman Foundation
Carla Dartis, Tides Center
Alfa Demmellash, Rising Tide Capital
Allison Devore, StreetWise Partners
Suzanne DiBianca, Sales Force Foundation
Cheryl Dorsey, Echoing Green
Bill Drayton, Ashoka
Mallika Dutt, Breakthrough
Alex Forrester, Rising Tide Capital
Tom Freedman, Freedman Consulting
Mark Fuller, Monitor Group
Marilyn Gaston, Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center
Christopher Gergen, Duke University
David Gergen, Center for Public Leadership
John Gomperts, Civic Ventures
Christine Greenhow, Admission Possible
Tiffany Gueye, Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL)
Steve Gunderson, Council on Foundations
Chuck Harris, Sea Change Capital Partners
Ben Hecht, Living Cities
Scott Heiferman, meetup.org
Philip Henderson, Surdna
Sara Horowitz, Working Today—Freelancers Union
Frederick Humphries, Microsoft
Dominique Jackson, Communities in Schools
Thomas JenkinsJr., Nurse-Family Partnership
Gladys Jensen, Jensen Foundation
James Jensen, Jensen Foundation
Alan Khazei, Be the Change
Vanessa Kirsch, New Profit
Matt Klein, Blue Ridge Foundation
Chris Koch, GTECH
Gara LaMarche, Atlantic Philanthropies
Carol Larson, Packard Foundation
Jonathan Lavine, Bain Capital
Pat Lawler, Youth Villages
Mark Levine, The After School Corporation (TASC)
Felix Lloyd, Skill Life
Gary Maxworthy, Farms to Families
Terry Mazany, Chicago Community Trust
Jim McCorkell, Admission Possible
Darin McKeever, Gates Foundation
Margaret McKenna, Wal-Mart
Bill Milliken, Communities in Schools
Ted Mitchell, New Schools Venture Fund
Vanessa Nunez, Genesys Works
Mark Nunnelly, Bain
David Olds, Nurse-Family Partnership
Pam Omidyar, Omidyar Foundation
April Osajima, Girls, Inc.
Sally Osberg, Skoll Foundation
Gayle Porter, Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center
Alma Powell, America's Promise Alliance
Bruce Reed, Democratic Leadership Council
Chandra Ribeiro, Bonnie CLAC
John Rice, Management Leadership for Tomorrow
Julie Rogers, Meyer Foundation
Sharon Rohrbach, Nurses to Newborns
Martha Rollins, Boaz & Ruth
Nancy Roob, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation
Zack Rosenburg, St. Bernard Project
Richard Ross, HopeLab
Alex Rossides, Growth Philanthropy Network
David Saltzman, Robin Hood
Smrthi Sathe, Blue Engine Media
Paul Schmitz, Public Allies
Jon Schnur, New Leaders for New Schools
J.B. Schramm, College Summit
Eric Schwarz, Citizen Schools
Tom Sheridan, The Sheridan Group
Mark Shriver, Save the Children
Tim Shriver, Special Olympics
Bobbi Silten, Gap, Inc.
Shamina Singh, Citi
Ed Skloot, Duke University
Erik Smith, Blue Engine Media
Ralph Smith, Annie E. Casey Foundation
Alan Solomont, Corporation for National and Community Service
Jonathan Soros, Soros Fund Management
Tim Sparapani, Facebook
Ben Starrett, Funders Network
Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild USA
Lester Strong, Experience Corps
Kerry Sullivan, Bank of America
Kim Syman, New Profit
Luis Ubiñas, Ford Foundation
Julius Walls, Greystone Bakery
Kelly Ward, New Profit
James Washington, Harlem Children’s Zone
Diana Wells, Ashoka
Shelly Whelpton, Sheridan Group
William White, Mott Foundation
Andrew Wolk, Root Cause
Trineca Yellock, JumpStart
Kyle Zimmer, First Book
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.