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William H. Gates Sr. - Youth Eastside Services

October 18, 2004
William H. Gates Sr. highlights the life-changing work of Youth Eastside Services at the organization's annual luncheon.

 

Gates is an interesting last name. My daughter was in a store not long ago buying skis for her family. She handed the clerk her credit card, he glanced at the name and said:  “Are you related to… uh… to him?” 

 

She was in kind of a hurry so she decided to say no.  The clerk said, “I didn’t think so.  You’d have bought better skis.”

 

Thank you, Pat, for your kind words. I have so much respect for the life-changing work of Youth Eastside Services. When all is said and done, the truest test of our humanity boils down to one question: “Are we going to take care of our children?”  Your answer to that question …is Y-E-S.

We need more people in our community to give the same answer, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

Now, the name of your organization is Youth Eastside Services, and some people around town have an attitude about the Eastside. When you tell people you’re helping at-risk youth on the Eastside, you know the kinds of things they’re thinking. They’re thinking:

“Sure …when things get bad on the Eastside, the children use hand-me-down golf clubs.”

Or:  “On the Eastside, a child-care crisis is the nanny’s day off.”

They think children can’t have serious challenges on the Eastside – as if people with privilege can’t also have problems, as if communities with wealth don’t also have poverty. The Eastside represents well-to-do and poor and everything in between. It is an American community.

True, this particular American community is wealthier than some others, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have problems; it just gives us a bigger obligation to fight them, and – if we do it right – a better chance of beating them.

There are a lot of kids in our community on very bumpy roads, whose starting place in life destines them for something disastrous – unless we do something about it.

We have a duty to do it – for the sake of our own kids, but also for kids everywhere. After all, with all our energy and ideas and our sense of community – if we can’t take care of our children here, where in the world can we?

Why do kids go awry?

Our foundation and our partners have been spending a lot of time thinking about this question. You might be surprised to know that fully one-third of our local giving goes to vulnerable or at-risk kids. We believe that will expand over time as we learn more about the challenges and what we can do to promote solutions.  In general, though, we are optimistic.  It’s true that our children are on a risky journey from infancy to adulthood. But we’re on an exciting journey in learning how to help them. 

What we are learning is both fascinating and complicated.

People often look at the problems of children through the eyes of the child – the child in Head Start, or the child in kindergarten – and that’s an essential perspective to have. But it’s also important to see the lives of our children through the eyes of their struggling parents.

In his book, The Working Poor, David Shipler points out that many of our at-risk kids are living with parents who were badly parented themselves, who have little education, a weak network of family and friends, and are working long hours at low pay. What this means at a practical level is that the children very rarely get the kind of care and attention they need to become healthy, energetic, curious kids who do well in school. If you don’t do well in school, it’s really hard to grow into a successful adult.

We have seen countless efforts to help our children by improving our schools, and that’s important. But we rarely see comprehensive community-wide efforts to ease the burdens and guide the efforts of parents in poverty.

This means helping parents learn how to raise and build an attachment with their children, stimulate their development, and respond to them in caring ways. It means giving teens and pre-teens the kind of mentoring that can supplement the efforts of an over-worked parent. It means finding the kids in school who need help avoiding the temptations of drugs and gangs.
 
This is a broad challenge. We, as a community, have to do everything we can to help our children toward successful adulthood, where they’re financially independent, gainfully employed, and emotionally connected to family and friends.

Whether we succeed will depend on what kind of community we have. Do we want to have the kind of community that believes its first duty is to take care of all our children?  If so, we need to support the kinds of organizations and activities that advance those values.
 
Y-E-S is that kind of organization – and it was launched by the kind of community we want. A pharmacist helped start Y-E-S in 1968. He realized something had to be done when he heard a 10-year-old kid talking about injecting peanut butter so he could get high.

Thirty-six years later, Y-E-S has grown up. They offer comprehensive services – what they call “wrap-around services” – by coordinating with experts both inside Y-E-S and outside in the community. Y-E-S acts as a partner with Hopelink and other organizations for food and shelter. They work with five different agencies to help teen parents care for their children and stay in school. They coordinate with many other organizations in treating and preventing drug abuse. They have counselors in nearly 70 different sites, including schools and teen centers, where they seek out the kids who need help but might not know how to ask for it. Y-E-S has decades of experience, a comprehensive approach, a commitment to prevention, and a strategic angle on the issues.  That’s why we are so delighted to be a partner with Y-E-S – because they do so many things, and they do them so well.

They do life-changing work in the area of abuse. Eleven years ago a call came into
Y-E-S from a women’s abuse center. The center had been getting a lot of calls from teens who were being abused by their dating partners, and they had no place to go for help. 

Y-E-S responded by starting a program to help these young women and men, and one of their first clients was a 15-year-old girl who came in directly from the streets. She had a jaw wired shut from a boyfriend’s abuse …and she had a 5-month-old baby. She came to Y-E-S for counseling for seven straight years, while raising her son and going to school. Today, she is finishing up a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is determined to have a career where she can help families get through what she got through. Can you imagine a better measure of success than that? That’s really quite phenomenal.

Y-E-S also works miracles in helping kids get off drugs. I talked to one 16-year-old boy at Y-E-S who had a problem with drugs and alcohol, starting in seventh grade. He told me: “My brother died and I didn’t want to feel the pain. So I took something to make me feel good.” Of course, if kids deal with depression by using drugs, there’s a whole set of social and coping skills they’re not learning – and they’re sure not learning calculus either. 

Unfortunately, once a kid starts, it’s really hard to stop. This teenager said he could get any drug he wanted at his high school in “10 minutes at most.”
 
“There’s always temptation,” he said. “It’s a constant thought.”

You don’t have to be religious to see the wisdom of the prayer “Lead us not into temptation.” But how can kids resist the temptation of short-term pleasure when all they see is long-term pain?  It’s not easy. But Y-E-S is in our schools helping drug-users to stop, and urging others never to start. 

There is one more program I want to mention – because it has to do with the point I made earlier about helping children by helping their parents. There is so much wisdom in this approach. Y-E-S, in collaboration with five other agencies, provides support to parents who are 22 years old or younger. The staff actually goes into the home – even before the baby is born – and teaches the parents things they need to know to raise a smart, healthy child – everything from feeding to reading.

The home visits can be crucial in finding gaps in safety and nutrition. One client had a 2-week-old baby who had stopped taking her bottle. The Y-E-S staff learned that the mother was feeding her baby ordinary, un-enriched, powdered milk, instead of infant formula. The mother didn’t know the difference, and it was the only milk she could afford. Y-E-S taught her the difference and took care of the cost.

Another client was 19 years old when Public Health referred her to Y-E-S. Her mother had kicked her out of the house when she turned up pregnant with no partner. The teenager ended up in a tiny apartment with five other people – a mother, father and three children. She was made to live in the kitchen pantry with her baby and take care of the couple’s three children.

The household was violent. But the teenage mom had a small infant and didn’t know what to do. Y-E-S began to visit her at the home, began teaching her about her baby’s development, and helped her find transitional housing. Today, the mother has moved into her own apartment; and she’s found assistance that helps her pay day-care costs while she takes courses at Bellevue Community College. Meanwhile, her baby is thriving. Y-E-S has changed the world for that mother and child.

If you like happy endings to heart-wrenching stories, you can find them – and you can fund them – here at Y-E-S.

The stories of these young people represent Y-E-S’s greatest appeal. Y-E-S does direct service. People feel a very strong urge to help others in cases that involve a neighbor or a relative because they know the person, feel the need, and see the result.

My son Bill was making this point last year on a PBS interview. He described how he had been watching a video about polio with my 8-year-old granddaughter. As soon as she saw a scene with a child struggling to walk, she said: “Who is that? Let’s go help him. What if he gets polio in his other leg?” 

Her reaction was very child-like, and very natural. When you see a human face, you want to help.

But it isn't always easy. In many cases, you sit at home with all the most wonderful instincts in the world and a little extra money in the bank – and you know there are problems out there, but you don’t know how to help. 

Y-E-S can turn your intention into action.  They offer the best of both worlds. They offer direct charity by working with people face to face; and they offer incomparable hands-on knowledge of the issues and how to get the most out of a dollar.

When we here in this room support Y-E-S, we’re not just donating money; we’re hiring experts. And we should remember: they’re not only experts; they’re also philanthropists. The most hands-on philanthropy in America is given by the people who do this work – because of the lifetime of lower pay they accept by working here rather than the private sector.  When it comes time to support Y-E-S, we should remember that.

But above all we should remember that 19-year-old mother living with her baby in the pantry, the beautiful women you heard from today, the 16-year-old boy whose brother died and is trying to stay off drugs, the 15-year-old girl with her jaw wired shut, coming in off the streets with her 5-month-old baby. Where would they be today if Y-E-S had not been here to help? God only knows.

How many young kids out there today need the same services – but can’t get them – because they can’t pay for them?  What’s going to happen to them?  Are we going to ignore them … or are we going to be the kind of community that brings them in and helps them out, and gives them a chance to change their lives?  We don’t know everything we need to know to build that kind of community, but we know where to start. We can start by supporting Youth Eastside Services. Thank you very much.

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