Remarks to the Habitat for Humanity International Legislative and Advocacy Conference

*** As Prepared for Delivery ***

Thank you, Mr. Gipson, for your warm introduction. Good afternoon, Mr. Seidel, Congressman Shuler, Ms. Goren, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to be here today to recognize and salute the work of so many Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Welcome to Washington, D.C. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.

I've been asked to speak to you today about the wonderful partnership between Habitat for Humanity, AmeriCorps, and VISTA. Before I do that, however, I would like to salute all of you, and indeed all the men and women all across this nation who give time, sweat, and occasionally a smashed thumb to your neighbors in need of decent housing. Give yourselves a round of applause.

There is so much work yet to do for America' volunteers who care about good housing for every American. For example, in Alaska we have entire communities of families living in homes without indoor plumbing. People in the Interior struggle to live in homes that have little insulation against minus 60 degree temperatures. In our rainy Southeast, there are too many homes that have mold and constantly leaky roofs. It seems that every year a natural disaster of some sort-be it flood, wildfire, or earthquake-destroys an entire community.

As in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Kodiak, Soldotna, and Wasilla, Alaska-the communities where Habitat affiliates in my state are based-good people like you across this nation are building and improving homes for their neighbors in need. That sounds simple, but it isn't.

Having a strong roof over one's head, a sound floor, walls that keep out the winter cold, plumbing that works, a warm place to tuck children into bed at night, and a safe place for the family to gather around the dinner table each evening are not simple things. Having a safe, warm home is the loom on which our nation's fabric is made. Tragically, too many people across our nation-and indeed across the globe-have lost their homes due to natural or financial disaster or are living in substandard housing.

Homelessness and substandard living conditions have consequences for our communities and our nation. Teachers won't stay in communities where they have to haul their own waste to a sewage lagoon or put a plant in the middle of the living room to catch the rain coming through the roof. Without a stable teaching force, schools don't function well and it's harder for children to learn to be productive adults. Parents seek the pride gained from providing a place to raise their children free from the threat of cold and disease. Despair, anger, violence, and suicide are more common in communities where people have to struggle just to rest. Communities collapse, tearing the very fabric of our nation all for the lack of basic, decent housing.

But when Habitat for Humanity, AmeriCorps, and VISTA volunteers work to change these conditions-you see it everyday-something magical happens. Parents are proud to look their children in the eye; they feel energized and hopeful. Children feel safe. Where there is decent housing there are also effective community services. You've seen the smiles and joyful tears and heard the laughter when the keys are handed over to a family for the first time. Each of these scenes represents a stronger thread, a firmer foundation for the future of our nation.

People who commit themselves to helping their less fortunate neighbors through AmeriCorps and VISTA are, in many places around the country, shoring up understaffed Habitat affiliates. They wield hammers, energize the community, lead volunteers, and do the paperwork. By increasing Habitat's capacity, they enable you to put more money into building homes for those who have none.

I know that many of you worry that there is never enough money to buy lumber, shingles, doorknobs, energy efficient appliances, and faucets. There is always someone else in need around the corner. There always will be. You are here in Washington, D.C. this week advocating for continued support from your government.

We are a nation that has, for generations, prided itself on how we help the less fortunate. We bring casseroles to the grieving and gather together to paint classrooms at the local school. We send money around the globe to people we'll never meet who have been affected by disaster. We help the elderly shovel snow from their driveways and lend our yard tools to our neighbors across the fence. Our volunteer military goes to support peace and stability in far away lands. And we build homes for those who need them-here and abroad. Volunteer service is in the best tradition of the United States.

In my view, the federal government cannot, by itself, solve every problem faced by each individual American. And while the federal government cannot, by itself, build a strong, safe home for every American, we can help leverage the efforts and partnership of Habitat, AmeriCorps, and VISTA volunteers, and private industry to make a difference. I look forward to working with you on these important initiatives.

Again, thank you for asking me to come and speak with you today.

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