April 28, 1997
At the Volunteer Summit in Philadelphia Monday, President Clinton and former Presidents Bush and Ford signed a pact called "America's Promise" which will help disadvantaged children through mentoring programs and community service. After a background report on the event, Summit Chairman retired General Colin Powell talks with Elizabeth Farnsworth about how volunteering can change lives.
JIM LEHRER: Now a conversation with Retired General Colin Powell, the chairman of the President's summit. Elizabeth Farnsworth talked with him last week before the summit got underway.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
Excerpts from Monday's Volunteer Summit
The Presidents' Summit for America's Future Web page.
President Jimmy Carter's involvement with the non-profit housing organization Habitat for Humanity.
August 12, 1996
General Colin Powell speaks before the Republican National Convention.
August 13, 1996
GOP Delegates discuss General Powell in an Online NewsHour forum during the Republican National Convention.
August 27, 1996
Hillary Rodham Clinton discusses the importance of volunteerism at the Democratic National Convention.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much for being with us, General.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, Chairman, Volunteer Summit: Thank you, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lots of people volunteer their time in this country. Why do we need a summit?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: A lot of people do volunteer their time. That's one of the great things about this nation. We are very philanthropic, caring, compassionate people. But I just believe we could do a lot more, and that's what the late Gov. George Romney thought when he suggested the idea of a summit. We've got all of the living Presidents together, Republican and Democrat, leaders from around the country, governors, mayors, and all come together and say this is an issue that should transcend politics, transcend urban versus rural, transcend race, transcend gender, class. Let's see if we can get a base line of what we're doing and leverage it up, do a lot more.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But toward what end? In the military you would have a goal that you would look back and say we achieved that goal. What's your goal here?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: The mission is to provide to 2 million additional youngsters by the year 2000 the five following resources into their lives, if these resources are not there now, a relationship with a responsible, caring adult. There are too many youngsters who do not see such a person in their lives. And you really can't learn taboos and traditions and experience of the past unless you have an adult to give that to you, to instruct you, give you discipline. There are too many youngsters who do not have a safe place to go after school in the afternoon, a safe place to learn and grow. That's the second resource. The third one is to increase the capacity of our youngsters to gain marketable skills outside of school and technical training, but in the actual workplace, in businesses, in shops and stores, and factories and internships and mentorships and apprenticeships, things of that nature. And the fourth one is a healthy start in life. Too many of our youngsters are showing up in the first grade; they need glasses; their hearing hasn't been checked; or they have some physical problem that hasn't been taken care. And that youngster is not ready to learn. And we sort of try to give every kid a healthy start. And the fifth resource is a little bit different. It's kind of the obverse. It says to young people, listen, you're going to be a real citizen in this country; you have to serve; you have to do something in service to your community, a community that's given you such opportunity. So we want youngsters to give back by tutoring younger children or working at a hospice or homeless center. And a number of our states, such as the state of Maryland, has already made that a graduation requirement from high school. Somebody was asking me the other day, well isn't that wrong, why should you have this sort of compulsory program in high school, isn't that against the rights of the youngster, and my reaction was, I think it's an important part of education. And if you want to know what violated my rights, it was integral calculus, not community service. And I would much rather have the option of community service. But I think we ought to push our youngsters a little bit in this direction so that they see that service is an important part of being an American citizen.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And why are you involved in this? All the things that you could be involved in, why do you care so much about this, what are you seeing out there, what problems?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: I spent 35 years with young people. I spent 35 years of my adult life with millions of wonderful young men and women, and I saw what can happen when you give them structure and discipline and a sense of purpose and being and mission; you give them a healthy start in life; you train them; and you make them feel good about themselves.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Of course, that's a public institution that's there, the military, that is very well run.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: It is very public. It's a very public volunteer institution but, nevertheless, public and very well run.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lots of money available for it.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: Lots of money available to it. But then when I retired from the army and began to write my memoirs and travel widely around the country on a speaking circuit, I found that I kept running into young people who didn't have that kind of experience that I saw in the army and the kind of experience that I had as a child, you know, growing up in a home with two parents in the nurturing environment of relatives and church and school and work at an early age. They didn't have that, and a lot of these youngsters were starting to give up on America. They're more worried about whether they're going to get killed tomorrow than they might get cancer 30 years from now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Killed in their own neighborhood.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: In their own neighborhood by neighbors. Drugs are a pathology. They don't see the sort of economic opportunity that I saw when I was coming along, and I started to sense some despair in parts of America, not among all American young people. Most American young people are going to be just fine. They're great. But we have too many of them, we think 15 million, who are at risk. And they are not coming up in the kind of supportive environment that they need to be successful, especially in this very demanding age we're going through. And I could think of no better use of my time than to try to do something about this. And I'm very, very pleased to be a part of the summit and more importantly a program which will follow from the summit, which we call “America's Promise, the Alliance.”
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain how it will work. You've got a lot of corporate involvement. The corporations have promised a lot of money, manpower, woman power.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Specifically give an example of money, problem, and how--who decides when the money comes in, where it goes. Explain that.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: We think many of these promises that are being made by corporate America can be self-executed. For example, earlier today All State Insurance came in, and they made a specific commitment to work with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, an existing non-profit, to introduce and expand a program that talks about being a smart teenager, providing mentorship training, violence avoidance, anti-drug messaging in a number of Boys and Girls Clubs in a number of cities. Now what All State says is we're going to double the number of cities that we are providing that service in and we're going to make a commitment over the next several years of up to $25 million in additional investment in money and in kind. And I said, thank you very much, All State, I'm very, very proud of you, but the actual execution of that will be between All State and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, two existing organizations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now money and volunteers that may come out of this, what--how do you know that they make any difference? I'm really raising a question about efficacy of volunteers. As you know, it's hard to judge some of those things. There aren't a lot of studies about it. How do we know that mentoring makes any difference, and how do you make sure that these are well trained volunteers? I've taught school. A volunteer in the classroom who doesn't know what to do can be just another child to take care of.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: That's right. And it is not a panacea. It is not the solution to everything, and not every volunteer effort is still around two, three, four years from now. But it is also absolutely clear, at least from my experience, as I go around to Boys and Girls Clubs and see Big Sister and Big Brother programs, and Children's Health Fund of New York, and all the other places I see, that there are some successful volunteers out there who are doing a marvelous job throughout this country, and I'm convinced that we can get even more of them. Now, how measurable is it all at the end of the day?
With respect to mentoring we do have statistics, we do know. We do know that if you take a group of youngsters who do not now have responsible, caring adults in their lives and you give the a mentor and that mentorship relationship works. You have to have a trained mentor. Somebody's going to stick with it that understands the problem of mentoring. Then there is about a 50 percent likelihood that those youngsters will turn out okay because what do most children want? They want somebody who loves them, rewards them, punishes them, gives them structure, gives them the box in which they can be safe and grow in, and let's them know what their boundaries are, and let's those boundaries grow gradually as the child grows. Right now we're taking youngsters who are born to teenagers, and we're throwing ‘em out in the street, and saying, here, go find out how to do it. But there are no boundaries and no structures, no traditions, no taboos, no spirituality. None of this is there to help the child.
A story to tell; my wife was talking to a group of young girls in one of the inner city schools recently, and she was talking about what it's like to be a successful woman in life and married and children, and one of the nine-year-olds raised her hand and said, "What's married? What do you mean married, will you tell me about it?" And what she was saying to my wife is that there is no "married;" this isn't a model I know in my neighborhood. We've got to intervene in that. We can't wait for these generations to correct themselves. They'll just perpetuate themselves. The farm teams for the jails of tomorrow are out there now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you keep this from being not just a spectacle where people really are committed; they really feel good for six months or a year and then it's just one more disillusionment for most people, what do you do about that?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: It's not so much what we do in Washington or what I do as General Chairman of the follow-on program. It's what happens in the communities. And there are going to be over 30 governors there. It's what they do when they go home. There will be over 100 mayors--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You really have to inspire them to follow up?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: We have to inspire them, but we have. I mean, for example, Gov. Pete Wilson is coming to the Senate to tell the whole summit and the world about his personal commitment and the commitment of the state of California, a public gathering of people, to create 250,000 mentoring relationships within the state of California over the next several years working with private partners. So there you have the government, then the non-profits working together, but with the governor personally making that commitment and creating a staff to make it happen.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's inevitable that with this sort of very high profile event, people are speculating that it's also a platform for you to run for the presidency in 2000. What about that speculation?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: There is nothing I can do about that speculation. There is no basis to it. It does not represent anything in fact or in fiction with respect to my life at this point.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Still not interested?
GEN. COLIN POWELL: This is what I'm committed to. This is what I'm committed to, and I'm not interested, and I'm making a contribution in private life, and that's where I plan to stay.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, General, thanks very much for being with us.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Elizabeth.
JIM LEHRER: The summit continues through Tuesday. We'll have some of the pros and cons of volunteerism on the NewsHour tomorrow evening.