Volunteerism

Summit Special Report

Top Story: Top leaders make their pitch for "big citizenship."

The General: Powell's high profile summit role fuels political speculation

The President's Declaration

Transcript: Colin Powell On CNN's "Larry King Live"

The Goals: Nation's most prominent leaders descend on Philadelphia to promote volunteerism.

Summit schedule

One Last Look:
Cartoonist Bill Mitchell and his take on the summit

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Pundits & Prose

All Volunteers Take One Step Forward

By Charles Bierbauer/CNN

PHILADELPHIA (AllPolitics, April 25) -- You coach the Little League team. That's terrific. But not enough.

Volunteer at the library. Help out at the community hospital. Put in hours at your kids' school. Good. Good. Good. Not good enough.

Not for what the presidents have in mind at their Summit for America's Future to be held starting Sunday in Philadelphia.

They want the nations' volunteers to do more than just what is comfortable. To go out of their way. To enter the unfamiliar neighborhoods of an estimated 15 million kids with limited horizons.

"To take voluntarism out of the box, out on the periphery where people think it's nice, but don't think it solves critical problems," says Harris Wofford who directs President Bill Clinton's Americorps volunteer program.

They? Presidents Clinton, Bush, Carter, Ford and Nancy Reagan, on behalf of her husband, will all be in Philadelphia this weekend to kick off a massive effort to rescue a generation of children at risk. General Colin Powell is commanding the crusade.

Powell is a role model for many, especially minority youths. But even his personal story about growing up in the Bronx does not always connect today. Powell recalls one kid encounter where he told youngsters about Kelly Street and St. Margaret's Church and the role models his parents were:

"And that young boy raises his hand and says, 'Well, General Powell, do you think you would have gotten as far as you did if you didn't have all of that?'...

"And I'm hit right in the chest because what that youngster is saying to me is, 'I don't have all that. You're talking about a model I don't know.'"

What Powell realized was that many of today's youth don't have one, let alone two adults they can count on. The summit goal is by the year 2000 to give two million youths "five fundamental resources" to lead productive lives:

  • An ongoing relationship with a caring adult or mentor
  • Safe places to learn and grow
  • A healthy start
  • A marketable skill through effective education
  • An opportunity to give back through community service.

One-on-one mentoring, though, is the heart of what the Philadelphia summit is about.

That's what Martrelle Pyatt, a Washington high school senior, gets from Juva Hepburn, a paralegal specialist. They talk or meet several times a week and have even traveled together to Florida. Hepburn counsels Pyatt on school assignments, and Pyatt's doing just fine. She's contemplating a scholarship to Georgetown University where she'd like to study economics.

"She is just there for me," the teenager says of her mentor. "By the time I get off the phone with her or by the time she takes me home or by the time I get out of her car, she has made me feel better about the situation I was in or the problem I was having."

"I'm paid with the gratification I see on her face when she accomplishes things that she needs to get done," says Hepburn.

But volunteer programs such as Hepburn works through are limited. Many are bottlenecked, according to organizers of the summit. They cannot handle the number of volunteers who'd like to help; cannot reach all the young people who could use it.

Summit organizers have bigger ideas. They're putting the muscle on corporations, foundations, associations to volunteer in a big way -- money, services and their employees' time. Just saying "here's what we've done" won't get a seat at the summit. It takes a NEW commitment and some have ponied up millions more than they thought they'd spend to be included.

  • Coca-Cola is doubling its $50 million to $100 million to recruit teens to tutor elementary school children.

  • LensCrafters will provide vision care for one millon children.

  • Timberland will give employees 40 hours a year of company time to do volunteer work.

"Literally hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of millions of new dollars that will go for programs aimed at building mentoring relationships, building youth training opportunities, assuring proper nutrition, immunizations" are catalogued by summit spokesman Joe Rutledge.

It's not entirely altruistic. Many a corporate executive has discovered there are "too many communities in America where I can't do business," according to Bill Shore, the summit official tasked with collecting corporate contributions.

That's also where Powell comes in. The general puts CEOs through his "sweat test" when he comes calling for commitments.

"We've got to notch people up, not only corporations, but non-profit groups and individuals as well. Notch them up until there's a little sweat on their forehead," explains Americorps' Wofford.

Not everyone is wild about the Philadelphia summit.

It's a "cruel hoax," according to the National People's Campaign, a coalition of largely liberal organizations and individuals which plans to demonstrate in Philadelphia in protest. The counter-campaign charges the "summit is really a cover for the massive cutbacks in vital social programs" as part of last year's welfare reform legislation.

Organizers counter that it is going to take all the elements -- public, private, non-profit -- to meet the goal of two million youths by the year 2000. They acknowledge, too, that the summit with all the falderol that accompanies presidential events, with its gala of entertainers and celebrities, is only a catalyst.

"The worst that could happen is that people think it's a big glittering show and that it's not a serious launching of something that can change our country," says Wofford, who was on hand to witness President Kennedy's launching of perhaps the U.S.'s most successful and enduring volunteer program, the Peace Corps.

"Some day the logic of this idea is going to be brought back home to America, on a big scale," Wofford recalls Kennedy saying at the time.

It's back home now. And, as any President you run into in Philadelphia will tell you, much needed.


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