Thank you, Jorge. It’s wonderful to hear how you are giving back to your community and I can’t wait to see what you do!
The Boys and Girls Club has always been special to us. Our daughter Ashley started volunteering as a teenager with you. And today, she’s turned that passion into a career—fighting for justice and equity in all communities. So, I’m honored to be here with you this evening.
As I was looking at your program, I was reminded of just how much the Boys and Girls Club does. You see the obstacles children face, from pandemic setbacks, to poverty and hunger, to mental health challenges—but you also see how government policies can make kids’ lives better.
So today, I thought I’d talk to you about something you may not see—not because it isn’t in your community, but because too often, it’s hidden. And to do that, I’d like to start with a story.
Last year at the White House, I met a little boy named Mason the day before he turned six. His mom had dressed him in a button up blue shirt and tie to match the formality of the occasion, but it couldn’t dim his wide smile, easy laugh, and the contagious joy that resonated from him as he ran around the Blue Room of the White House.
Anyone can see that Mason is a light in his parents’ lives. But what you might not see is that his jokes or silly dances aren’t just a way to have fun—they are how he helps his family cope with very real challenges.
You see, Mason’s dad, Marcus, lost his left leg in an IED explosion in Iraq and lives with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. His mom, Briarly, cares for him, while raising Mason’s brothers and sisters. It’s a lot of work. And as you can imagine, some days are harder than others. But Briarly told me that, when things feel darkest, it’s Mason who always helps them find their way back to the light.
You know, being the family of a service member comes with unique challenges under any circumstances.
Most military families move every few years. Imagine having to start all over, again and again. Parents have to wonder: Who do you call to babysit? Who do you invite to birthday parties? How do you help your child make friends when everyone else has known each other since kindergarten?
Meanwhile, military children have to learn to adapt, too. They sometimes find out that their favorite sport isn’t offered at their new school or lose touch with their best friend. It can be heartbreaking for young people—and so often, that pain goes unseen. They don’t wear a uniform, and their peers and teachers don’t always know what they’re going through.
No matter how hard parents try, there’s no way to shield military kids from the realities of war and sacrifice. They become resilient because they have to be.
And that’s especially true for kids like Mason, and the more than 2 million children of wounded, ill, or injured service members or veterans. We call them “Hidden Helpers” and they live with the real-life consequences of our wars every day.
Mason was at an event at the White House for a Joining Forces event—our initiative to support military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors. It was a kick off to a new “Hidden Helpers” coalition dedicated to helping kids like him. And there, I also met children who helped monitor their parent’s medication, did extra cooking or cleaning around the house, or knew about the images and sounds that could trigger painful memories.
Hidden helpers are strong. They’re proud of their families’ service—and that they can help someone they love.
But they’re still just kids. They get tired of having to be brave. And their parents—doing their absolute best to raise families through recovery—need to know that they aren’t alone.
Supporting our caregivers—no matter their age—is critical to our national security. Our troops and their families need to know that if they ever face injuries, illnesses, or wounds, we will have their backs.
No, we can’t shield our Hidden Helpers from the reality of war or its aftermath, but we can recognize that those costs last long after our troops come home, and that injuries can be felt throughout generations. We can celebrate caregiver kids and their service to our country. We can—and we must—bring Hidden Helpers’ service out of the shadows—let their light shine—and give them the support they need to thrive.
Through Joining Forces, we’re working every day to do just that. But everyone has a role to play. And that’s where you come in.
You know what young people need—you help them every day. You are champions for safe places to learn and play and grow. You empower families across America. So I’m asking you today to remember our Hidden Helpers. Find out if there are service members and veterans in your communities. Talk about what that sacrifice means. Ask kids if they are helping to care for a loved one. And let them know you have their back.
Fred Rogers—Mr. Rogers to most of us—once said, “It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
You have dedicated your careers to the idea that all children are “our children.” You are champions for them—and for the families who love them. You see the need and you rise to it, every day. And for that, you’re my heroes, as well.
With all of my heart: Thank you for what you do.