Child Magazine's Third Annual Children's Champion Awards

Prepare to be inspired as we present our 2005 honorees' and presenters' heartfelt, moving speeches.

Welcome From Editor in Chief Miriam Arond

Miriam Arond: Welcome to Child Magazine's Third Annual Children's Champion Awards. As many of you who have come to our previous awards programs know, this is my favorite night of the year. I've discovered that something magical happens when you bring together in one room, in one space, so many people who are deeply and happily committed to caring about children. I'm sure that those of you who are here for the first time, along with our many repeat guests, will be moved and inspired by the six individuals who are being saluted tonight. They are people who have tirelessly and energetically dedicated themselves and their careers to improving the lives of children.

Our first presenter, I'm happy to say, is herself a past recipient of Child magazine's Children's Champion award. She's the founder and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund. She's been an advocate for disadvantaged children her entire professional life, and under her leadership the Children's Defense Fund has become the strongest voice fighting for a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start, and a moral start for all the nation's children. She's the author of numerous books, including The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours and I Can Make a Difference, which had such an impact on me that I wrote about it in my editor's letter in the December/January issue. Marian is the winner of numerous awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship, the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I can't begin to put into words the respect and admiration I have for Marian's work and integrity. All I can say is I feel very privileged to have her as a member of Child's esteemed advisory board. Marian is a powerful voice for children and I believe she is the perfect person to present an award to Linda Ellerbee, who has such a powerfully honest and open way of speaking to children.

Please welcome Marian Wright Edelman.

Marian Wright Edelman Introduces Linda Ellerbee

Marian Wright Edelman: Thank you. Thank you, Miriam and all the Child magazine family, for inviting me to be here with these extraordinary honorees. It's a privilege and an honor. And I am especially privileged to be able to present the award to a simply wonderful woman, Linda Ellerbee. She has mastered the art of getting children's attention. It's a skill that I'm sure many parents and grandparents and the rest of us would really like to be able to share and pass on to others. Her secret is actually very simple -- she never talks down to her audience. She listens.

After a very distinguished career at NBC News, Linda Ellerbee turned her astute eye to a younger generation of viewers, and since 1991 she has produced, written, and hosted Nick News on Nickelodeon network. It is a show watched by more children than all other television news programs combined. In plain language Linda conveys the most important news of the day -- from the earthquake in Pakistan, the war in Iraq, to hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast. She also listens to the concerns of children and presents them on television in specials, such as Ten Things I Hate About School, in which Linda asked the kids of America what they thought was wrong with American education. After all, politicians, parents, and educators have had their say. Shouldn't somebody ask children about what they think and let them have their say?

Nick News has been honored with three Peabody Awards, a DuPont-Columbia Award, and four Emmy Awards, including this year's Emmy for outstanding children's program, given for the Nick News Special Edition, Never Again? From the Holocaust to the Sudan.

Linda is also a bestselling author of the memoirs And So It Goes, Move On, and Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table, released earlier this year. She's also written a series of novels aimed at middle-school readers called Get Real, featuring -- not surprisingly -- a feisty girl reporter.

In addition to her work as co-owner of Lucky Duck Productions, which produces programming for almost every TV network, Linda is the mother of two, a grandmother, and a sought-after inspirational speaker. So it's my deep honor to award her unwavering commitment to educating children and for encouraging them to think for themselves. I can't say how much pleasure it gives me -- Linda, come on up here -- to present you [with the Children's Champion Award.]

Linda Ellerbee Accepts

Linda Ellerbee: When we went to produce the show that won this year's Emmy, Never Again? -- which has a question mark after it -- From the Holocaust to the Sudan, some people said to me, "Why would you want to produce a show about such an awful topic for kids?" I said, "Well, because after the Holocaust, the world made a promise -- the good people in this world said, 'Never again.' And if the promise is to be kept through the generations, you have to know the stories." They looked at me kind of funny and I said, "Let me put it this way. Hitler's most famous victim was a 13-year-old girl who kept a diary."

I'm often asked by people why I do a show for kids. Can't we just let them be kids? Can't they just play? And the phrase I hear is "ignorant bliss." Well, first of all, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is dangerous. But secondly, they don't have that choice. Not in the world we live in today. With the Internet, with 24-hour news channels, supermarket headlines, and don't let us forget schoolyard rumors -- kids hear bits and pieces of stories, and often that is far more frightening.

So our job is not to report the news for kids; it's to explain the news to kids. Because we know how frightening that can be. I'm not certain there was ever a time that kids were able to "just be kids." I mean -- before World War I, most kids, unless they were wealthy, went to work at about 12 years old. Certainly, kids who were kids during World War I knew what was going on. Certainly, kids who were kids during the Great Depression were not unfamiliar with the hardships in this country. Certainly, kids who were kids during World War II knew about it.

Now I myself was a Cold War kid. In Houston, TX, every Friday at noon, they set off the siren, and we would climb under our little wooden desks and put our hands over our heads to practice for when the Soviet Union dropped a hydrogen bomb on us. Even at age 10, it was fairly clear to me that if the Soviet Union did indeed drop a hydrogen bomb on us, getting under my little wooden desk and putting my hands over my head was not going to do me a lot of good.

[Laughter]

But no one ever talked to me about it. Not my schoolteachers, not my parents, certainly not television. Nick News is about changing that. As you pointed out, Marian, it's not about talking to kids. I really know very little about talking to kids. It's all about listening to kids. That is our mission -- to persuade them that they have a voice and to show them the respect of listening to their voice and listening to their opinions.

Somebody asked me, was I out to formulate a nation of kid news junkies? And I said, "No, I'm much more subversive. I'd like to grow a nation of rowdy citizens."

[Laugher]

So we tell them to raise their voices, and that citizenship doesn't begin at 18. And we tell them their voices count. And we tell them that yes, bad things happen in this world -- we don't lie to them -- but we also point out that wherever you find a bad situation -- whether it's the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, or New Orleans -- you will always find good people trying to make it better. And the implication there is that they have a choice when they grow up of what they're going to do. And I hope they all grow up and make the right choice. The other thing we tell them is you could never be so afraid of what might happen that it keeps you from enjoying the world around you today.

I just took six kids from around the country rafting, 226 miles of the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon. And at the end of it, one of the kids turned to me and gave me a great compliment. She said, "You paddle really well for an old person."

I'm very grateful for this award. It was an accident that Nick News got started. It is an accident that I have spent the third act of my life as a journalist talking and listening to kids. It is an extremely fortunate accident for me. I've learned so much. And, of course, unlike other women of television news, I never have to worry about whether I look old -- because to 10-year-olds, anyone over 20 looks old. I thank you for this award.

Miriam Arond: Linda, that's what we call a very happy accident.

Amy Dilbeck Introduces G. Denman Hammond, M.D.

Miriam Around: In so many ways, the lives of Amy Dilbeck and our next honoree, Dr. G. Denman Hammond, have crossed paths.

Amy is a childhood cancer survivor of osteo sarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer. She was diagnosed in 1996, a month before her 16th birthday, and treated at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where Dr. Hammond served as the head of the pediatric hematology/oncology department. Dr. Hammond also trained Amy's doctor, who followed a treatment protocol of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to replace the affected bone with metal. This treatment protocol had been tested by a group of pediatric oncology experts called the Children's Cancer Group, which was chaired by Dr. Hammond.

If Amy had been diagnosed with her type of cancer just five years earlier, the standard treatment at the time probably would not have saved her life. But thanks to collaborative research, she survived with a 2 1/2-foot scar on her right leg and enough titanium to set off any airport metal detector.

After her operation, Dr. Hammond was so impressed by Amy's courage and dynamic spirit that he began inviting her to speak at conferences and fundraisers on behalf of an organization he founded called CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation, to support research and public-awareness programs to benefit children with cancer.

In 1992, Amy graduated from Pepperdine University with a degree in public relations and was recruited by Dr. Hammond to join his CureSearch staff. Today, Amy continues to be an ardent advocate for children with cancer and their families. She has been a featured guest of the President's Cancer Panel, the American Association of Cancer Research, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Currently, she is applying to law schools, and according to Dr. Hammond, who has always encouraged her to follow her dreams, she'd better go if she wants to remain his sweetheart.

It is my pleasure to introduce to you Amy Dilbeck.

Amy Dilbeck: What she didn't add is I get to follow Dr. Hammond around and eat my weight in cheese at each of these events. You know, it honestly is my privilege to introduce Dr. Hammond to you this evening. He's a caregiver; he's a doctor; he's a father; he's a grandfather; he's a devoted husband of 60 years to his wife, Polly. That is worth -- we should award him just for that this evening. And I have caught them on more than a couple of occasions holding hands and smooching at events like this, so you might want to keep an eye on him.

Most importantly, he is an inspiration to so many people. Now I did first meet Dr. Hammond when I was just about 16 years old. I was in the midst of my treatment, so I was very bald and very skinny and very sick, and probably on crutches if I remember correctly. And I remember having this sort of [contradictory] feeling when I met Dr. Hammond. I thought, "There's this man who's done so many things," and I knew his history. You kind of just want to sit there and listen to what he has to say -- like you're coming to the throne of wisdom. But at the same time, you kind of just want to squish his cheeks and give him a hug. So he's an interesting man. He's an incredible man.

I was impressed that night by so many things about him, and I've continued to be impressed by so many things about him -- by his compassion, by his generosity, by his humility, and by his kindness. I think what's most impressive about Dr. Hammond is that childhood cancer isn't just something that he works on. He doesn't go home every night and hang up his doctor's coat and stop thinking about it. Because I think if that were the case, three years ago when he "retired," we would've never seen him again. He and Polly would be off to Thailand and on cruises.

But I've been with that man on numerous occasions and in numerous places, where he continues to give everything that he has to childhood-cancer research and to education and advocacy on that subject. I've been with him, tramping up to Capitol Hill and making speeches to Congress people all day long. Childhood cancer [research] isn't something that Dr. Hammond works on; it's truly something that he lives for.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Hammond was one of the first people to begin using chemotherapy in children. At that time, chemotherapy was radically experimental. Can you imagine that? Something that today is what we cling to as the hope for a cure -- at that time was something that was almost outlandish. But we started to see survival in children; we started to see those rates that were virtually nothing climbing a little bit. That was what sparked Dr. Hammond, in 1955, to get together with other people and start to do cooperative research. As that research began to expand and help other children get better, he started recruiting people from different fields to come and do specialized research.

He started with solid tumors and eventually branched into all different kinds of childhood cancer. And today, it's really that spirit of collaboration and that vision that Dr. Hammond had with so many others in 1955 that has transformed childhood cancer. Today, what was nearly an incurable disease has an overall success rate of 78% for children.

Today, the Children's Oncology Group, which is a result of that first cooperation, has 230 member institutions across the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe. And there are just about 4,500 researchers, physicians, and specialists that are part of that group. They give hope to families. There are thousands of children that have been dramatically impacted by the work of the Children's Oncology Group and by Dr. Hammond. It's these numbers that draw us to tangible things.

I guess maybe hope is the most tangible thing in our world today. It's the thing that drives everything else about life. Dr. Hammond has given that hope to so many families through his legacy of scientific achievement and compassionate care. He's walked beside patients -- he walked beside patients in the days when nobody survived. He knows what it's like to love a patient and to lose a patient.

And he's also seen the exhilaration and the excitement that comes with success and with survival. I can't think of a better recommendation of his work than being able to stand here today before you. My family and I often talk about that day, almost 10 years go, when I was diagnosed with cancer, and how we felt just at the pit of where we were as people, and didn't know what to look for or what the rest of our lives would hold. And today, I'm here.

My mom calls me -- "You're going to New York today? Tell me how it goes. Tell Dr. Hammond we love him, we thank him."

More than anything, I'm moved and I'm impressed, but I'm so thankful. I am so thankful, and I am so blessed. I'm thankful because I think, in some small way, in 1955 -- although that was 25 years before I was born -- I feel like you were thinking about me, and you made the world a lot better for a lot of children like me. So for myself, and for my family, and for the children that I hope to have one day, I want to welcome you here tonight, Dr. Hammond. And I want to thank you for your incredible contribution to childhood cancer research.

It is an honor to present you tonight with Child magazine's Children's Champion Award.

Dr. Hammond Accepts

G. Denman Hammond, M.D.: It's a special honor to be here and represent people like Amy. I'd like to honor my wife, Polly, who has supported everything I've tried. I started treating children with cancer in the early '50s. They were children with acute leukemia -- the most common cancer in children. And we had three different medicines that could make leukemia disappear. They would be in remission. They would pass all examinations. But the leukemia would come back, just in several months. And it would be resistant to the medicines we were using. And the children died.

I had no cure. It was obvious, though, that the era of chemotherapy for cancer had begun because these agents could make leukemia disappear, even temporarily. We needed to discover many new agents; we needed to discover better ways to use them and use them together.

The National Cancer Institute -- the federal government's cancer-funding agency -- decided to organize a group of children's hospitals that saw lots of children with acute leukemia and get them to work cooperatively together so that we could find out faster which agents were going to work and learn how to use them.

So seven hospitals throughout the United States bound together into the first cooperative-research group that the National Cancer Institute organized. We started using anti-leukemia agents. And the remission times got longer and longer. We began cautiously to talk about cures -- only among ourselves. We realized that some of these children were not having leukemia return. I'm proud to say that I've treated some patients that are now parents of very healthy children and have grandchildren.

So the survival of children with acute leukemia became better and better. And it was obvious that we needed to try chemotherapy against the solid tumors that affected children. But we had been a bunch of pediatric hematologists. We didn't see patients with solid tumors. Trained pediatric surgeons saw them and tried to treat them. So we recruited pediatric surgeons, pediatric radiation oncologists, pediatric pathologists, pediatric nurses, and social workers to work with us so that we could try chemotherapy against solid tumors, along with surgery and radiation therapy, and get very precise diagnoses too.

The first cooperative group organized by the National Cancer Institute began, and our job was to develop in the laboratory, or try what other laboratory investigators had developed, the medicines that could be used against solid tumors. That group became very successful. The rate at which survival of children with cancer has progressed compared to adults is just spectacular, and I think many of the adult cancer groups and cancer specialists have learned from the pioneering efforts of those early childhood cancer groups.

The Children's Oncology Group now includes over 200 children's hospitals, university hospitals, and comprehensive cancer centers throughout the United States and Canada. And those institutions provide the care, depending on the age and diagnosis, for up to 90% of the children with cancer in North America.

That is the world's largest research organization, making progress against childhood cancer. They have always had more ideas to implement and try out to benefit children with cancer and their families than they could fund. The National Childhood Cancer Foundation was developed in order to raise funds from the private sector to help that group achieve its goals.

That's my story. I've been delighted to be affiliated with that effort for most of my career. I was especially delighted to be honored by Child magazine because I've been aware for years of its reports on the prime children's hospitals in the United States. And you can imagine that having a patient like Amy Dilbeck here with us -- such a wonderful person -- is an enormous gratification.

Soledad O'Brien Introduces Samuel B. Ross Jr., Ph.D.

Miriam Arond: Our next presenter is someone you have the pleasure of visiting with every weekday morning. As anchor of CNN's high-profile American Morning show since July 2003, Soledad O'Brien has reported live from London on the terrorist attacks, from Thailand to cover the tsunami, and was the only broadcaster to accompany First Lady Laura Bush on a trip to Moscow in the fall of 2003.

Soledad previously served as anchor of NBC's Weekend Today, where she covered many major stories, such as the Columbine school shootings and the space shuttle Columbia disaster. In 1998, she traveled to Cuba to cover Pope John Paul II's historic visit. I'm lucky enough to have been interviewed by Soledad several times on TV and what always stands out in my mind is her special blend of intelligence, compassion, and genuineness.

Soledad is the mom of four children, and one of six children herself. She's passionately committed to family and to children everywhere. I'm so happy that Soledad can be with us tonight to present the 2005 Children's Champion Award to her friend and our next honoree, Dr. Samuel Ross, founder of the Green Chimneys School in Brewster, New York.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Soledad O'Brien.

Soledad O'Brien: Good evening. As you can tell tonight, it takes a very special person to be a champion of children. Children, obviously, are often voiceless. They don't vote. They're not backed by a powerful lobby. They cannot filibuster. They never call for the special prosecutor to come in, and if they hold press conferences -- well, usually they're way too short to see the mike.

Understanding all of this, of course, makes it all the more breathtaking to consider the life work of Dr. Samuel Ross, a true humanitarian and a true champion of the most vulnerable of our smallest citizens -- children who have special needs and learning disabilities. Children whose parents have sometimes given up. Children for whom, sometimes, society has no hope. It takes a pretty amazing person to recognize in these children not just the glimmer of hope, but really a floodlight that is the full potential in each and every one of us, and to teach a child who is injured and fragile that it's okay to love and to trust -- a gigantically important step in the life of a child who needs healing.

Who will help this child if we do not? It is said that that is a question Sam Ross would ask whenever he came to a particular child who found his or her way to Green Chimneys Farm for Little Folk. And if the answer, as the story goes, was, "Well, nobody's going to help but us," then that was that and Dr. Ross and the staff stepped up and answered the needs of that child, the parents, the community.

Who knew that nursing a sick animal back to health would be the best way to teach children about unconditional love? The love that they have for an animal that needs their help and the unconditional love that they learn they deserve in the process. Who knew that time spent outdoors and in the company of farm animals would have such an impact on children's learning and their self-esteem, their focus and their attitude? Who knew that there is a direct line that extends from developing a healthy relationship with an animal to developing a healthy relationship with another human being -- especially for children who struggle emotionally and behaviorally?

Well, Dr. Ross knew. As a college student who pushed his father into turning their 150-acre farm into a boarding school for young children -- and as the guide and the emotional center for Green Chimneys since 1947. Today, there are some 3,500 children and families each year who are helped by Dr. Ross's work in the school, the residential treatment facility, the mentoring programs, the adolescent group homes, and many, many, many other programs as well. Here, children learn what they live -- acceptance of all creatures, the value of all beings on this earth.

Dr. Sam Ross is a remarkable human being who's chosen to be the champion for those who often get no say -- whether we're talking about an injured bird or a horse or a traumatized child. He has chosen as his life's work to be the voice of those who are often ignored. And he has made the world truly a much better place, just by being here on earth.

So a big congratulations tonight to Dr. Ross, and Green Chimneys too, for making a big difference in so many lives. Through his work, children learn about each other and they learn about themselves as well. It is a tremendous honor for me to present the Children's Champion award to Dr. Sam Ross.

Dr. Ross Accepts

Samuel B. Ross Jr., Ph.D.: Thank you, Soledad. Thank you, Child magazine. I am proud to accept the honor of being named a Children's Champion. I do so on behalf of the staff and board of Green Chimneys. Without their devotion and help, the children might not have a better future. I have always believed that people are more important than place. It's good to see friends and family here. Hank Sheinkoff is a former student who made it big and has never failed to share his success with us.

I had no idea 57 years ago, when I convinced my father to buy a farm, that Green Chimneys would become what it is today. I was 18, a college junior, and too young to think about what tomorrow might bring. My goal -- to surround children with animals for the betterment of both. I can't believe that anybody would entrust their children to me at that young age, or their grandchildren to me at that young age. Now that I'm a grandfather, I think I would think about it a long time.

We had 11 children enrolled that first summer, and this summer every day on the campus, we had 541 children. That's not our only program. I was telling somebody just a few minutes ago that it is a really diverse group, and it works well together. We speak openly at Green Chimneys of nature and nurture. We see our daily task as restoration and creating futures, providing opportunities that motivate young people to succeed.

I married Myra in 1954 -- I got that right. She says she gave birth to three children and I gave birth to Green Chimneys. She's the one who explains the importance of daily routines and order in the lives of the children who have had unsettling experiences. The rooster crows in the morning, the chores are done, the sun sets, and the day comes to an end. Thank goodness she does not remind me that the farmer works from early morn until the setting sun, but the farmer's wife is never done. Myra's guidance has been unwavering. She's a champion in her own right, and I love her and continue to love her.

In the early '70s, we were licensed as a child welfare agency, and a young man applied for a position. That man, Joe Whalen, who's here tonight, is our executive director today. That was the second thing I did right. Green Chimneys was the first job out of college for Joe, and hopefully he will remain with it until he's too tired to continue.

Our goal is to restore the broken world, making it better for all children. We want them to grow up strong and smart, to be filled with joy and hope, to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. But countless young people -- maybe as many as 100,000 in New York state alone -- are confronted with obstacles no child should have to bear. Some struggle with learning, social, behavioral, or emotional issues. Others are tuned out, turned off, or left out.

At Green Chimneys, we serve regular and special children, including the gay and lesbian youth in this city, who have been denied the right to thrive. Our programs offer children a place of discovery, building self-worth from an early age. The routines we emphasize and the life-skills training we offer give them hope for a brighter future. And we must never forget -- we must rescue animals at the same time and let them be cared for by the youth that we serve. Our youth have been described as hard-to-reach and failures -- and I can tell you, that's not so.

For me, it's Kaizen -- the Japanese word for the philosophy of incremental improvements. It's what you do when you create something great; you work harder to make it even better. Thank you again, Child, magazine. The honor comes with added responsibility for me to live up to the expectations of a champion.

Phil Donahue Introduces Marlo Thomas

Miriam Arond: Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, and Sally Jesse Raphael are just a few of the many people indebted to our next presenter. Phil Donahue pioneered the audience-participation television talk show format in 1967, and changed the face of American daytime TV.

As host of 7,000 one-hour daily Donahue shows, Phil was honored with 20 daytime Emmy awards, including nine for "outstanding host." He interviewed Nelson Mandela and Ariel Sharon, was the first Western journalist to visit Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there, and hosted key political debates over the last two decades, including the 1984 Democratic presidential debate, which he moderated with Ted Koppel, and a 1992 debate between Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown.

Throughout his career, Phil, the father of five children and grandfather of two, has demonstrated his care and commitment to children. He hosted an Emmy Award-winning children's special, Donahue and Kids; hosted a PBS special, Childhood in America, which focused on the problems facing children in contemporary society; and presented a special, Ryan White Talks to Kids about AIDS.

Throughout his distinguished career, Phil has won many honors in addition to his Emmy Awards, including a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Journalism Award, a President's Award from the National Women's Political Caucus, and the first Media Person of the Year Award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

I still remember the excitement and buzz when Phil married his most captivating talk show guest, Marlo Thomas. And I'm happy that Phil's here tonight to present his wife, Marlo Thomas, with her very deserving Children's Champion Award.

Please welcome Phil Donahue.

Phil Donahue: I cannot get through an airport without people knocking me over to get to Marlo Thomas -- to thank her for Free to Be. "It changed my life," they tell her. And That Girl. The first woman on television who really wasn't breathless to get married -- how revolutionary that was for its time.

And I appear before you now to present an award to my wife. I'm beginning to feel like the man on the psychiatric couch to whom the doctor says, "But sir, you are inferior."

[LAUGHTER]

Marlo Thomas -- by her own admission -- is a Beverly Hills brat. She was raised surrounded by wealth, fame, elegance, and luxury unknown to any other community in our nation. But she has never ever kept her eye off kids who weren't so lucky. And you see this in Memphis, Tennessee. My first visit to Memphis was in the late '70s. I remember I picked up a little bald kid and said, "What would you like to be when you grow up, Tiger?" And the kid said, "I just don't want to be sick anymore." And then you get it. You realize how much Marlo's passion -- the firstborn of the founder, Danny Thomas -- means to this institution. St. Jude has become one of the crown jewels in pediatric healthcare and medicine in the world. St. Jude's computers have computers. St. Jude looks at a child, examines the child, diagnoses the child, and then tries to figure out why this protocol works for this child and not this child, and then gets into the genome to determine the billions and billions of combinations and trigger mechanisms that would allow for health here and an unsuccessful result here.

It's unbelievable what's happening in this place. You see people come to St. Jude terrified, anxious, and worried for their very sick child, and you see them leave with relief. I have been eyewitness to what Marlo's contribution and passion have been to this place. And I also am reminded that 25 years ago, when I looked into the eyes of this Italian/Lebanese beautiful woman and had a wonderful wedding ceremony, I didn't realize it then, but I certainly do now -- when I said, "I do," I married a hospital.

[LAUGHTER]

And she is out every day, talking to a chairman, a CEO, a CFO, whoever will listen. She has lined up -- honestly -- most of the Fortune 500 companies of this nature, no kidding, to take part. St. Jude -- over a million dollars a day just to open the door! Over a million dollars a day! It's a research hospital -- this is often misunderstood by a public that knows that Danny Thomas founded a wonderful children's hospital. What is less understood is its research character. And the help that Marlo has been able to harvest from some of the largest, most important corporations in America will find its latest expression in the Thanks and Giving [campaign]. Thanks for the children we have who are healthy, and giving for those who are not.

And that's why I am very pleased and proud to be here tonight to present the Child magazine Children's Champion Award to a Beverly Hills Brat, who never took her eyes off the children who were not quite as lucky. I am pleased to present this award to my wife, Marlo Thomas.

Marlo Thomas Accepts

Marlo Thomas: I'm very honored to receive this award and to be here in the company of such wonderful children's advocates -- especially Dr. Hammond. I'm very impressed to be in your presence because you're pretty much the forefather of a lot of what we do. I'm just a lowly fundraiser. I'm not a scientist. I'm not a doctor. What I do is travel around the country and raise $517 million a year. I don't know if you know this, but St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is the third-largest health charity in America -- American Cancer, American Heart, and then St. Jude. And we must raise this money because we don't want to have to cut any of our programs. This year after Katrina, several institutions had to cut programs. We knew we would lose about $35 million in the zip codes of the Katrina disaster that would no longer be able to be involved in any kind of charity management. But we made the decision that we would not cut any programs. In fact, we added 11%. We do not stop at St. Jude; that's our mission.

I was there just a couple weeks ago, and a mother came up to me and told me, "Our daughter has a very difficult brain tumor and we were at another hospital." She said, "They did as much as they could for our 8-year-old daughter and finally said I should take her home and photograph her because she's only got four months left to live." She said, "So I bought a camera and I went to bed that night, and I couldn't sleep. I got up in the middle of the night and I went on the Internet. I typed in my child's illness -- Medulablastoma -- and up came St. Jude. It said you had clinical trials going on for Medulablastoma, so I called the next day and said, 'Could I get my daughter into the trials?' The people at St. Jude said, 'Oh, that trial's closed, so she can't get in that trial. But bring her down; we'll start a trial just for her.'" That was a year and a half ago.

At St. Jude, we do not say, "Take your child home and photograph her." At St. Jude, we say, "Let us see what we can do." My father built this institution in 1962. They say we don't know how smart our parents are until we grow up. I don't think I really understood how smart my father was until after he was gone, until after I took over his job. He just was a brilliant, brilliant man. To have built this research and treatment center under one roof, where the doctors and the scientists work together on every single child -- it's amazing to see. When a kid goes there and people do not know what's the matter with him -- they sometimes have diseases for which not only is there no cure, there's no name for their disease -- the scientists and doctors work together to figure out what they can do to help this child.

My dad had made a promise to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, to build a hospital for helpless kids -- hopeless kids. When he went to Memphis, he met with a very forward-thinking scientist there, and this scientist said, "Dan, if you really want to help kids, don't just build another hospital. Don't just make kids better. Try to find out what makes them sick. Build an institution for the study of disease." And that's what they built -- this research and treatment center under one roof. We have the tissue of every single patient since 1992. Our scientists today are studying that tissue from children who are no longer even alive.

We are a research institution -- and I will tell you -- what I have learned is that it doesn't matter how good your insurance policy is; it doesn't matter how much money you have. The only insurance policy that matters a damn is research. Put your money in research. If there isn't any research for your child's disease, then you don't have a chance. And as I travel around the country, I meet people everywhere who have somehow been touched by St. Jude.

My father made two promises when he built the hospital. One was that no child would ever be turned away for a family's inability to pay. And that means that we pay for everything. We pay for a parent and child's travel. We pay for their housing, their food, all their treatment, and their medication -- for as long as it takes, no matter what it takes, to make that child well. Up to 1997 that meant we were paying for 51,000 hotel nights a year. Then the Target Corporation came along and built us Target House -- 100 two-bedroom apartments. The Memphis Grizzlies built us another 100 apartments -- where the kids live together with their families in a community setting. And it's really very healing for the children and their parents to have the support of this community.

The other promise that my father made, the second promise, was that every scientific breakthrough we made would be immediately and freely shared with the scientific community worldwide. They call St. Jude "the hospital without walls" because everything we learn is sent throughout the world. We impact the lives of children in every community in this country and around the world.

I'm very proud of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I'm very proud that we are making a difference in the lives of so many families. You go there and see these parents terrified -- they come in the middle of the night, the kids with fevers, just terrified. And the parents all say the same thing: "Nobody asked us for an insurance card. Nobody asked us about anything. They just took us in and they got to work trying to find out what was wrong with our child."

And our scientists and our doctors come from all over the world -- only two come from Memphis. They come from China, New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, and Italy -- 60 different countries. We have an AIDS vaccine in safety trials. We have a GMP building -- an FDA term meaning Good Manufacturing Practices. We're the only pediatric institution in the country that has such a facility. We created our AIDS vaccine there, and I'm sure you've all heard about our Dr. Robert Webster, the leading avian flu expert. He created the seed vaccine for the avian flu there. We have a bone marrow transplant now that we give to children by using their parents' marrow, which means it's only half a match. It's very exciting and a pioneering breakthrough that will, I hope, be passed on to adult bone marrow transplants as well -- because I'm sure you've read how many children and adults die waiting for a bone marrow match.

I could go on and on -- I will try not to -- but I guess since I have this opportunity to let you know who we are and because I'm a fundraiser, I can't help but think a lot of you have some money and possibly you'd want to shake my hand and leave me a few dollars! My friend Gloria Steinem says that fundraising is the second-oldest profession in the world. It's true.

[LAUGHTER]

Thank you, I'll tell Gloria how much you liked that. Anyway, thank you for recognizing St. Jude. I am the spokesperson for St. Jude. But all the hard work and the good work started with my father and continues today with a great team of scientists, researchers, doctors, nurses, childcare workers, psychoanalysts, and family counselors that keep these children alive and keep these families together. So on behalf of all of them, I thank you for recognizing our work.

Stone Phillips Introduces Joe Torre

Miriam Arond: I promised you that you would be inspired -- I'm getting a bit of that feeling. For the past 13 years America has come to rely on your next presenter for his hard-hitting news stories and compelling interviews every Friday and Sunday night. Stone Phillips has been the principal anchor of the award-winning news magazine Dateline NBC since 1992. He's also served as a substitute anchor on NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. Before that, he spent six years as a correspondent on ABC's 20/20 and served as a general-assignment correspondent on ABC's World News Tonight.

During his career, Stone has interviewed some of the biggest newsmakers of the last two decades -- everyone from the nine rescued Pennsylvania coal miners to Donald Trump, George Bush, and Jack Kevorkian. Stone has also interviewed some of the biggest names in pop culture -- Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Sharon Stone, and Melissa Etheridge, just to name a few.

Stone is also a big fan of the New York Yankees, which makes him the perfect presenter for our next winner. Stone interviewed Yankees manager Joe Torre back in November of 2003. Since then, Stone, the father of a son, has been a strong supporter of Torre's Safe at Home Foundation -- a foundation that has been working to put an end to domestic violence.

It is my pleasure to introduce to you, Stone Phillips.

Stone Phillips: Thank you. It's wonderful to be a part of this evening -- both as a reporter and as a parent. I'm just back from conducting an interview with the first person I've ever met or known who is the child of two rocket scientists. Imagine that as a little pressure. And you'll never guess who it was. The actor Jack Black. Jack Black, the mad star of School of Rock, the son of rocket scientists. He says "rock" is the only part of rocket science he ever understood.

I don't have to tell you what part of television news my child understands. Anyway. Let's talk baseball for a minute. Our next honoree was a nine-time All Star in the big leagues. He came up in 1960 with the Milwaukee Braves, played on the same team as his older brother Frank. Frank's career was sort of winding down as Joe Torre's was starting up. His very first time at the plate in 1960, he slapped a single -- Joe, you remember who the pitcher was?

Joe Torre: Harvey Haddix.

Stone Phillips: There you go. Harvey Haddix. That was Joe's first hit that season. It was also his last hit that season. He went 1 for 2, finishing with a 500 batting average -- that's not bad. He was also behind the plate? I'm going on here because I just love this stuff. He was also behind the plate when Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn won his 300th game for Milwaukee. Who was that game against?

Joe Torre: Cubs.

Stone Phillips: But there's only one number you need to remember as far as I'm concerned about Joe Torre and his baseball career, and that's 1971. That year was Joe's greatest year as a player. He batted 363 that year. He won the National League batting title. He was the league's Most Valuable Player, and he did it for my St. Louis Cardinals. I was a kid in St. Louis, going out to the stadium -- saw a lot of games that year. And what a season it was for Joe.

I've got to tell you that there was a soft spot in my heart for him long before we sat down for our Dateline interview with Joe and Joe's family and I found out what a remarkably insightful, sharing, generous, and compassionate person he is.

You know, in baseball and in life, the words "safe at home" have a special meaning. As the manager of the New York Yankees, my second favorite team in baseball and a great on the field, Joe knows the importance of being safe at home at the ballpark.

His passion is even greater for doing everything that he can to make sure that children have a safe and secure environment to grow up in. Joe's own personal experience growing up in an abusive home led him and his wife Ali to start the Safe at Home Foundation. It's an organization that develops educational programs to help end the cycle of violence -- domestic violence in the home -- and save lives.

Joe grew up in Brooklyn and he would come home from school and not want to come home because of his father. He had an abusive father -- most of that was directed towards his mother and also to some of his older siblings. Joe never quite knew what he was going to see or what he was going to hear when he got home. He lived with that fear for a long time. And he has really stepped up to make sure that other children don't live with that kind of fear. Allie said something really important in her interview on Dateline. She talked about the fact that witnessing the abuse of a parent is in itself a form of child abuse. And she said that Joe has lived the effects of that for a long time.

For them to come out and talk about this on national television is a remarkable thing. And we've heard remarkable stories this evening. Great work being done. I think it's remarkable that Joe came on to talk about something that has such a stigma attached to it in this country. People don't do that. It takes a big man to do it. And he doesn't deserve all of the credit because his wife Allie was very instrumental in encouraging Joe to talk about something that he had kept inside for years and years. It made a huge difference in Joe's life when he came out and talked about it.

And one of the results is the Safe at Home Foundation. It is dedicated to the memory of Joe's mother, Margaret. The programs that are developed by this foundation are designed to reach children directly and to send the message that abuse is wrong -- that children, kids in homes, can be and must be a part of the solution.

One of the initiatives is Margaret's Place. This is a school-based program where kids can come, receive counseling, receive mentoring -- just have a safe place to talk about violence in their homes. They also do a lot of community outreach to develop support systems outside of the school. It is very, very important work, and Joe is leading the way by personal example -- helping these kids know that they've got to talk about this stuff. It's just not something that people do want to talk about; it's a painful, painful secret in too many lives.

For the past 10 years, Yankee fans have looked to Joe Torre as the calm face in the dugout. Derek Jeter still refers to him as Mr. Torre. He's a man who does not mind shedding a tear of joy when his team makes it to the playoffs or blowing his wife a kiss from the field. He is the kind of manager that a player loves and an owner loves, even if he doesn't always show it in the right ways.

[LAUGHTER]

But it is Joe's remarkable devotion, dedication, compassion, and caring toward children and families that have made him the most deserving recipient of the Children's Champion Award. One of my heroes, Joe Torre.

Joe Torre Accepts

Joe Torre: Wow. I tell you, Stone -- the one thing I'm glad you left out as far as my stats and stuff are the four double plays I hit into in one game when I was with the Mets. Established the major league record. Could not have done it without Felix Millan, who hit four singles in front of me. I think the last time he'd come to hit, he hit the ball off the top of the wall and stopped at first because he knew I had a shot at the record. I was blessed.

Thank you so much. Wow. The stories tonight so far have been pretty incredible. My wife Allie and I -- when we were in St. Louis we were involved in children's charities and we just felt that we wanted to do something when we came to New York. I have a soft spot for children. I have a 9-year-old daughter, who -- I look at her and it's just so moving to me. When we're standing up there for the 7th inning stretch and they're playing "God Bless America" -- especially right after 9/11, and they showed faces of children in the stands -- it just brings a lump to my throat because these youngsters aren't going to enjoy the same freedoms that we did. It's very moving.

When we decided to start the Safe at Home Foundation a few years ago, I just felt that I wanted to do something in my mom's name. Allie and I talked about it. What could that be? What did we want to do? Well, we knew what my mom had endured. I was the youngest of five children -- 8 1/2 years between the next oldest and myself. I was home most of the time along with my older sister Ray. And my dad was very abusive. In fact, when I did Dateline with Stone, they asked me, "Did you ever think about calling the cops?" And I said, "Well, my dad was a cop."

It was very difficult. It was at a time in the '40s and '50s when you didn't talk about it. You kept it to yourself. And in starting the Safe at Home Foundation [for my mother] -- because growing up I was very spoiled and she was there every single day. She was there for me when I came home from school. She was there for me when I hurt myself or needed some help. And I didn't realize until I was older that she really didn't have a life, other than her children. She never went out to dinner, never traveled, never went to a movie -- it was just her children.

I know if she was still with us today, there's no way she would allow me to talk about this because she was a very private person. There was a lot of whispering from older siblings about what was going on about my dad. And when youngsters hear whispering -- at least the way I felt at that time -- I must've done something wrong. And I grew up with a lot of guilt, I grew up feeling that I'd caused bad things to happen.

In starting the foundation, our goal is -- yeah, we could be care providers, but we felt we wanted to do something beyond that; we wanted to try to end the cycle of domestic violence. This is not an easy thing to solve. But the one thing I felt in gearing it toward children is we have to have them open up and share with each other -- to let them know that they're not alone in this.

And in opening several Margaret's Places in the different schools -- we don't make them talk about it, but there are counselors there. There are books and games. They can go in and feel comfortable to do things. If a couple of them happen to walk in and they can maybe share with each other things. I'm not sure -- they still have to go home to the same house, but they'll know they're not alone. I think it's a step in the right direction, and we'll avoid some of the scars that the children who don't share will carry through life.

I'm very proud of not only the fact that we started this foundation but the people who work for us. We have several right over here. We have Ann and Alison and Jennifer, who just give of themselves. They know how important it is. You need to have passion to work for this cause. And I know people are surprised?when we first started the foundation a few years ago -- and Marlo, I know what you're talking about; you've raised a whole lot more money than we do -- when you call up and talk about having people come to your dinner and buying tables, and doing things like that, they're saying, "Oh, you mean the man abusing the wife?"

Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, this is a women's issue and I feel, being a man, that I get a little more attention that I am talking about this -- and the fact that I am the manger of the Yankees and we've had success and it's a big city -- people return my phone calls and they do come to the dinners; they do come to the golf tournaments. And we like to believe when they leave, they're a little more aware of what we're doing and what we're trying to raise money for.

It's the most satisfying thing for me. As I said, I have a 9-year-old, Andrea. On weekends, I can't push her out of the house. She loves staying in her pajamas and playing on her computer. I know nothing about computers. In fact, we're going to Italy next month and she already has the Italian CDs in there and she's answering the questions -- she's way smarter than I am. But she's safe at home. She feels comfortable at home. She doesn't want to leave home. And that's something. When I, as Stone alluded to, used to come home and see my dad's car in front of the house, I'd go to a friend's house until he left for work. So it's very satisfying for me.

A couple of years ago, I went into a school and I start explaining about my childhood. They were all middle-school children. And as I'm talking about my dad abusing my mom, I see heads just go like this. And I realize at that point in time that we're getting people -- kids -- to come forward and talk about it. We've gone to several schools [since] and we sit and talk. We went to Connecticut and I talked to a group of youngsters in an auditorium and then opened it up for questions. Now, I know for sure that the girls are going to ask about Derek Jeter, and why did you change pitchers, and stuff like this. But there wasn't one baseball question. It was all about the violence that happens in the home.

So it's satisfying in so far as the fact that we feel we're going in the right direction. It's a long climb. We send mixed signals as coaches or managers. You're out there telling your players to be aggressive, go get it, kill, kill, kill, and they suddenly go on a date after the game and they think they can take certain liberties with women. So it's a mixed signal we're sending. We have to make it loud and clear that respect has to be a part of our daily life. Respect for each other. You don't have to love each other, but just understand that the respect factor is so important. It is in my clubhouse. I mean, it's important to win, but it's also important to know how to handle things if they're not going real well.

So again, I can't thank you enough, Child magazine, for this honor. We're in our infancy, and I feel very proud to be standing here with these other recipients who have been doing things for much longer than we have. But I really appreciate this recognition. Thank you very much.

Rosanne Cash Introduces Francisco J. N??ez

Miriam Arond: Our next presenter is a Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, who has earned critical acclaim for the richness, honesty, and beauty of her music. Rosanne Cash's 11 albums have yielded 11 number-one singles. Her last CD, Rules of Travel, includes a moving duet with her father, the late Johnny Cash, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It is certainly one of my favorite CDs to listen to as I travel.

Rosanne has also been listed on Country Music Television's list of the Top 100 Female Country Artists of All Time. To the delight of her many fans, including myself, her newest album, Black Cadillac, will be released by Capitol Records early next year. In addition to writing songs, Rosanne is an accomplished author. Her first book, Bodies of Water, a collection of short stories, received widespread acclaim. So did her children's book, Penelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale. Her essays and fiction have appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, and also, I am very proud to say, Child magazine.

Rosanne is a passionate advocate for children's causes. Recently, she performed a song, "How to Be Strong" on a children's CD, Mary Had a Little Amp. Proceeds from this all-star compilation benefited a national program to ensure preschool education for all American children. In the past few years, she's also been particularly involved with PAX, an organization committed to preventing handgun violence among children. Rosanne lives in New York with her husband, producer/songwriter/guitarist John Leventhal. She has a son and four daughters ranging in age from 28 to 6. We are delighted to have Rosanne here to introduce our next Children's Champion, Francisco N??ez -- a man with whom she shares a passion for music and children.

Please join me in welcoming Rosanne Cash.

Rosanne Cash: Thank you very much. When I read Francisco's biography and then I got here tonight, my friend said, "So how old do you think Francisco is?" I said, "Well, I read his bio -- he's got to be 60." She pointed him out. Imagine my surprise when this very gorgeous young man was standing there.

Nietzsche once said that without music, life would be an error. Our next honoree certainly believes that. Francisco N??ez's passion for and dedication to music has fueled his mission to introduce it to young people of every race, religion, and economic class. In his hands, music is truly a universal language, and one that has the power to break down cultural barriers and change lives.

After graduating from college, Francisco began working at the Children's Aid Society of New York City as the director of music for after-school activities. And while there, he founded the Young People's Chorus of New York City, which is now the resident choir of the 92nd street Y and New York Public Radio. As artistic director of the chorus, he transformed an untrained group of about 250 children from all backgrounds into respected choristers who win prizes and critical accolades throughout the world.

Francisco, who is an influential conductor and composer in his own right, also created "Transient Glory," a concert series that commissions prominent composers to write challenging works specifically for the Young People's Chorus. Additionally, he launched a satellite choral program in four New York City public schools, reaching more than 350 children.

Among his many awards, Francisco has received a Luminary Award from the Latino community organization Casita Maria for his children's advocacy work. He was also recently honored with the Liberty Medal from the New York Post for being an ambassador who "revealed the finest qualities of New York to the world."

Growing up surrounded by music, I know the profound impact it can have on a child's life. It is a place of solace, inspiration, joy, and expansion. I have tremendous respect for all Francisco has accomplished and all he has done to give children the gift of music. To Nietzsche's comment about life being an error without music, I would add a phrase I have written on the wall above my desk -- actually on the wall, not on paper. I took a marker and wrote it on the wall; it was so important to me. I don't know the author, but it says, "When you sing, you pray twice." It is my great, great honor to present Child magazine's 2005 Children's Champion Award to Francisco N??ez.

Francisco J. N??ez Accepts

Francisco J. N??ez: Good evening. Most people look at me and say, "My goodness, how old is he?" and I do have a special potion that I sell on the side as part of my fundraising effort.

I want to say thank you, Rosanne and Child magazine, for honoring me. I feel humbled being in the midst of such greatness -- so many wonderful people and speakers.

What I want to do is tell you a little bit about my story and why music is important to young people. I grew up with a Dominican background. I grew up very poor here in New York City. I'm Dominican, but I was a terrible shortstop, so that didn't work. I tried in school, but that was tough because English is my second language. Music. It was piano. My mother bought her first piano from the Salvation Army on 46th street for $200. I think that most of the keys were there, and I started playing it. For some reason, people said I was a prodigy at that point. But we didn't know what to do with a prodigy. Usually, you have a prodigy, you get a great teacher, you spend a lot of money, and you get them to a great school -- you get them into Juilliard and he becomes famous.

My mother didn't speak English. She couldn't do that. So my piano teacher came -- what we did is we paid him with food -- and he would come. He spent several hours with me at the piano. I did all the great concerts in the Latino community. What I noticed when I went to give those concerts was there were people different than me sitting down. They looked like you guys. Nice, chandeliers, beautiful table, glasses with wine or something. And I would meet them and they would talk to me about life and what I wanted to do with my future. I didn't have the answer. They'd say, "Speak to this person."

What happened is that by meeting these people, I started to say, "Hold on. I have to be able to communicate to that side of the world because there's something there I need to know about." The piano brought me out of my community. I am not out of it today. I am still a Dominican American. But I know that going back and forth in these two communities is something very important. But I couldn't do it alone. I needed to reach out to someone else who was going to teach me something that I did not know. I needed to meet other kids who I could talk to.

When I was in seventh grade, I met my first person -- a beautiful blonde girl. We used to play in school. She was Jewish. I was told -- "Be careful. Jewish was something different than me. They don't understand us, so we don't understand them." But while speaking with her, I learned, "Hey, she's a kid. She knows a lot of things." Then she took me to her house and I met her mom. She lived in a building that had a doorman. It was incredible. I actually stepped into this building with these gorgeous chandeliers. And we became great friends over the years.

She taught me about the different schools I could go to, the different things I could use my talent for. She said, "You know, you're really talented." I said, "Really?" I was composing at that point and I got my first job at a church as a music director. At that time, Bishop O'Connor, before he became Cardinal O'Connor, made me the youngest music director in the Archdioceses of New York City at the age of 14, and a big article came out. People started to recognize me, and I started to feel good about it.

And I started to meet different people. I started to meet people from Haiti, from Puerto Rico, and Americans of all kinds. They gave me advice. And I used that advice. It was through the music that I learned that I can meet these people and they accepted me. It didn't matter what my last name was or that my mother didn't speak English. And the beautiful thing is that my mom was the one who was smart enough -- even though we had to take the subway everywhere and we could not afford a circus ticket -- she was smart enough to bring me to the circus during intermission and we would talk to the guards and get in. And she said, "You have to go to Carnegie Hall to listen to other pianists." We would go during intermission because -- you can still do this today, by the way -- you can go to any concert and get in free because most people leave; there's a lot of empty seats. So there you go -- free concert tickets in New York.

But the most important part was the communication and working with someone different than you. And when I became equal to them because I got applause too, I was able to ask them questions. There was less fear. I then went on to college. I was supposed to be an electrical engineer. I was either going to be a priest, a doctor, or an engineer. Engineers make money. A doctor -- you get sick; cure me. A priest -- doesn't work so well -- get me into heaven. I went to Manhattan College. And I tried Juilliard for a while -- I wasn't ready.

Then I left Juilliard and went to NYU. The only reason I got into NYU is because someone said, "Try it." When I went to NYU, my grades were so terrible from Juilliard, they didn't take me -- because I wanted to get in as a business major. They said, "Go as a pianist." I went back the next week. I got accepted with a full scholarship. I have the two letters side by side: one rejection, one acceptance -- within one week. Today, I'm a professor at NYU. Who knew?

You know, there are a lot of kids that live in New York City that have the same problem that I did. I used to call them jail kids -- the reason I did is because, if you have children, every apartment has to have a window guard. [With a window guard] you can't really see too far down and see what's happening. But all the kids are playing downstairs. I used to live behind those guards all day. I had to go run home because if I went downstairs, I'd get mugged. I was the one white Dominican living in the area. I was the kid inside the apartment asking, "When can I go out and play with a kid that won't hurt me and wants to study as well?"

I got lucky because my parents were able to find that place. And I wanted to create a place where other kids like me could have that opportunity to meet each other and get to have the same applause. And after having the same applause, give them the opportunity to sit together and let it happen -- let them talk.

It's really wonderful to see children who would never even want to meet a Jew go to bat mitzvahs. It's amazing to hear a kid say, "Oh, my God -- you shop at the Gap? I didn't know black people shopped at the Gap." It's amazing to hear children saying, "What college are you going to? My guidance counselor in my school said I'm not going to college. How do I get in?" And that's happening. They're starting to change their lives.

The children who stay with us stay approximately eight years, or 10 years sometimes. And all of them -- almost 100% -- are in college or have graduated from college in our program. It is one of the only multicultural/multiethnic children's choirs in the world. It's an unfortunate thing to say.

We just came back from Japan. Every country had to choose one choir to represent it in what's called a World Choral Symposium. And the YPC was asked to represent the United States. Once again, [we were] one of the only groups -- instead of having a homogeneous group of children, we were multicultural. There are others out there. We're just one of the few. I hope that continues to change.

I do want to say thank you for having me here. And I do want to end with one song, so I've invited a couple of kids. Do you mind?

[APPLAUSE]

Okay, these children here -- there are 21 with us today -- these are our concert chorus. Most of them came back from Japan. These children come from public, private, and parochial schools citywide. We also have children from Jersey and upstate New York. We sing every kind of music there is. Tonight, we'll do three selections. We're going to sing a piece from the Dominican Republic, then we're going to do a piece from New York called "Take the A Train," and we're going to end with a Gershwin tune. Thank you for having us here.

[APPLAUSE]

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment