"IS THIS FOR REAL?"
April 29, 1997
A Presidential summit has ended with major public and private commitments to increase volunteerism in the U.S. Leaders promise deed will follow word, but can the mood be sustained? A background report , is followed by a panel discussion with Elizabeth Farnsworth on strengths and weaknesses of the summit .
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now we get four perspectives on Gen. Powell's question: Is this for real? Roxanne Spillett is president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. She's been in Philadelphia for the summit. Also there was Robert Woodson, president and founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and Chad Gifford, chief executive officer of Bank Boston, and joining them is Peter Edelman, who was assistant secretary of Health & Human Services in the first Clinton administration. He resigned last September in disagreement with the President over welfare reform and is now professor of law at Georgetown University. Thanks for being with us. Roxanne Spillett, is this for real, is the summit going to make a difference, in your view?
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
April 29, 1997
A background report on the final day of the Presidential Volunteer Summit.
April 28, 1997
A Newmaker interview with Volunteer Summit leader, Gen. Colin Powell.
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.
ROXANNE SPILLETT, Boys and Girls Clubs of America: (Philadelphia) Oh, I think it absolutely will make a difference in many ways. It's going to raise awareness for an issue that this country needs to know about and come face to face with. I believe there will also be increased funds, contributions in kind, and raise the volunteer spirit in America. I believe it will make a difference.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you think for your organization, for the Boys and Girls Clubs, it will bring more money and more volunteers?
ROXANNE SPILLETT: More money, more volunteers, and I think we have 1850 clubs across the country. I believe that every one of our clubs will benefit from increased volunteers and increased community awareness, and as volunteers become aware of what goes on in the Boys & Girls Club, they're more likely to also contribute financial resources. Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Woodson, you were there too. Do you think it'll make a difference?
ROBERT L. WOODSON, National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise: Well, noble intentions don't always result in noble outcomes. I think there is--we need to be more thoughtful about how we approach this. I was concerned--the attitude I heard expressed by Gen. Powell that was generalized throughout the conference, and that is I think he said on this show that people who don't look like us, who talk like us, or dress like us need us.
And from that he has defined America into provider class, i.e., middle income people with capacity, with a recipient community of low-income people without capacity, and, therefore, we must recruit people from outside to rescue those. That's a very patronizing, elitist attitude. And it ignores the reality that there are healing agents within those communities that have demonstrated that they can do what no one else could.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're worried that there won't be a proper mixing of what's happening already in communities, like your organization. Tell us how this would work with your organization, for example, how it could work well or badly.
ROBERT L. WOODSON: For instance, we have in 38 states grassroots leaders like the Alliance of Concerned Men here in Washington, a group of men who went into the Benning Terrace Public Housing Development and helped young people settle their differences with resulting peace for the first time in many years. They did this without a budget, without a staff, without an office. And yet, and the Housing Authority David Gilmore stepped up to give these young men jobs. But no one from outside could have done that, because these men share the same zip code, many with the kids, and also they have made a lifetime commitment.
This isn't a project. This isn't a feel good exercise. Also, one final point, you didn't hear the word "God" mentioned; you didn't hear the word "spiritual," or "moral" content. And that's what of the young people are suffering from, not just inner city kids, but white, upper-income kids are also in a moral free fall. And so I think it's wrong to create this kind of impression, that all low-income communities are deficient of parents who care, or who are capable of caring for their children, and, therefore, they must be rescued by well meaning outsiders.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. We're going to come back to that in a minute. Mr. Gifford, what about that, did you--do you think that there is that danger, and how does this work for you and your bank? What will you be doing different than you did before?
CHAD GIFFORD, CEO, BankBoston: Well, I'm not sure we'll be doing it too much differently. Our company has been involved with community service for a long, long time. What I think is changing is that community service in the past has probably been more direct philanthropic dollars. We'll sustain the dollars, but I think we're going to have more people involved.
I can understand the previous gentleman's concern that maybe there will be too many stereotypes; maybe there won't be enough credit for those that have done such an incredible job in areas of need. But in my view, the need is so much greater than we are currently providing that this cannot but help the situation. I think the challenge is from here on. You know, any time you have a new product introduction, if you're a company, the hard work is after you introduce the product. But still you need that introduction. You need the planning beforehand if you're going to be successful.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is it that you're going to do?
CHAD GIFFORD: Well, what--specifically I think the core of our pledge is to get 5,000 of our people--we call them the Eagle Corps--our logo is the eagle--and get 5,000 people out into the community. This not going to be forced, or anything like that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And "our people," you mean the people that work for BankBoston?
CHAD GIFFORD: I'm sorry, yes. Employees of BankBoston. And we'll help them go to areas of particular interest, and frankly, a lot of people ask me, is this really good for the company? Well, of course, it's good for the company. Your service area is stronger, but the--the pride that's built within our employees and the respect from our customers, for me it's a win for shareholders, customers, and employees.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, you said you weren't doing anything differently. But you are promising more people and more money, right?
CHAD GIFFORD: Yeah. More money. We are doing that. We're going to mentor 500 kids between--not only mentor them, give them summer jobs between now and the year 2000--5 million dollars specifically for the five subjects of the summit, but, again, what I think--what I hope is changing is that more people in our country are getting involved with our country. As the President said yesterday, that word "citizenship" we should all understand and take it very seriously what it means.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Mr. Woodson, you're worried that these volunteers came just come in and sort of think that they're kind of noblesse oblige.
ROBERT L. WOODSON: Yes. But I think the poverty industrial complex will now be replaced by the voluntary industrial complex, where the money that they're talking about will not go to groups like the Alliance of Concerned Men, Survivors of Homicide. In other words, the people who kids can turn to on a Friday night at 10 o'clock, they live in the community, these are the neighborhood healers who are raising children in low-income, drug-infested neighborhoods, children who are not dropping out of school, in jail, and on drugs, and they are the people who are the real heroes in America, but they go ignored because of the way they operate. They're more concerned about solving a problem than they are calling a press conference and drawing attention to themselves.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you don't wish the summit hadn't happened at all, do you?
ROBERT L. WOODSON: Not at all. I just wish they would recognize the capacities of low income people and understand that I had a tag on that said--I was a person of dignity--a dignitary. And yet, I was raised by dignitaries who were--who were butlers, maids, chauffeurs. So dignity and dignitary is not defined by your--by your job. It's how you conduct your life, the content of your character. And yet those were not the people making presentations.
They were all celebrities, public officials, high profile public officials, talking to the people, and none of the people that we represent around the nation were in a position to teach middle and upper income people how to salvage the lives of their children who may be driving drunk into trees on River Road in convertible BMW's. So there's a moral and spiritual crisis that all of us need to come together and recognize that remedies exist not just in upper income communities but in low-income neighborhoods.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You weren't there, Mr. Edelman, but you watched it very closely. What do you think of the summit? What do you think it can accomplish?
PETER EDELMAN, Georgetown University: I'm a great fan of getting people more involved in participating and solving our country's problems. I think that the renewal of the civic enterprise is vitally important. What I'm concerned about is a couple of things. One is I do share some of Bob Woodson's concerns about a little bit of noblesse oblige overtone in this. But I think as fundamental or maybe even more fundamentally I'm worried that we've come to another time when some people are advocating that we can solve all of our country's problems by volunteer activity.
It's just not true. Even among the objectives that were listed at the summit you can't get a healthy start for children in this country unless we have health coverage for children. And that's legislation that's pending, and we have to pass that. We have to spend public money on that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So even with corporations promising millions of eyeglasses and eye tests and ear tests, that just won't do it?
PETER EDELMAN: That's all terrific, and we should get more volunteer doctors out into the community, and we should bill in all of that, by the way, an inner city community should be done in conjunction with and directed by people who are in the inner city because it is their community. But that is right, you cannot get all the coverage you need for children without legislation.
We can't forget that. Marketable skills, you have to have schools that work; you have to have job training programs that work. It's not--it can't all be done by the private sector. Safe places for kids to go after school, it costs money to get those schools open. Now, that's a place where public and private can come together. That's where those matters can work.
The other concern I have besides the fact that we need that balance, we absolutely have to have that balance, we have to have public policy and public funds, as well as private activity to solve these problems, is that the follow-up on that is not simple stuff. And there's a little bit, oh, we'll get all those mentors out there.
There's a reason why Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which is a very successful organization, has only 100,000 mentors in the whole country after being in business for decades, because you have to pick and choose carefully. You have to match the mentors with the children. You have to have people who are going to stay with those kids and not walk away and not disappoint them again. You have to have support and training for those mentors. In fact, what's involved here is pretty complicated even to get more volunteers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, let me ask Ms. Spillett about that. How will you integrate people? Is this--is it true that you have 100,000 because it hard to get volunteers, train ‘em properly, use ‘em properly?
ROXANNE SPILLETT: Our clubs are staffed by trained professionals, full-time and part-time professionals, supplemented by volunteers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's say your phones start ringing like crazy tomorrow with volunteers. What will you do?
ROXANNE SPILLETT: We have staff in each of our clubs that will take those calls, will interview those volunteers, and depending upon--you know, we have this notion that the only way to volunteer is with--directly with kids. Well, our clubs utilize volunteers many different ways, particularly on their local boards that are advisory groups, their special event fund-raisers. There are many ways volunteers can get involved, not all of them directly with kids.
But our clubs would be able to take calls, interview volunteers, find out what their interests are, and match them with the clubs' needs. We have a staff in our clubs that are able to do that. We're not strictly a volunteer program organization, and, in fact, paid professional staff is one of our great strengths. They're youth development professionals and trained to work with kids.
PETER EDELMAN: Well, can I just say--Bob--just very quickly--Boys and Girls Clubs gets public money, don't you?
ROXANNE SPILLETT: We--our combined budgets are about $400 million. All of our clubs together in the national organization, that's 1850 clubs, probably less than 10 percent of our dollars are public funds.
ROBERT L. WOODSON: But let me just say that--and this is a major point--we keep talking about professionals--professionals. The people that we represent are not professionals, but they're effective, and it is--there is not a--their professionalism, certification is not synonymous with qualification.
When it comes to convincing a young person that they should turn away from prostitution, alcohol, and drugs, our people have demonstrated that they can provide that kind of moral leadership, and yet, we talk about professionalization of it, and many of the funds that are directed to helping people have a condition that the person receive it be a professional. And so we must find ways of insinuating resources into this informal sector that has demonstrated that they are more effective than professional providers in salvaging children.
ROXANNE SPILLETT: Bob, I think it's both. I think professionals can be effective, and I think community volunteers--
ROBERT L. WOODSON: But all the money goes to groups with professional fund-writers and what have you, and very little gets down in the neighborhoods where the problems are being effectively solved.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Spillett, let me--we only have a few seconds left. What will you be looking for in two years to say that this summit was a success or not?
ROXANNE SPILLETT: We'll be looking for more clubs. Last year we opened up 208 new clubs. That's four clubs each week. We hope we can keep up that pace, if not increase that pace. You know, when that school bell rings every day we have 45 million children that leave the school, they're on the streets, they go home to empty homes. This country needs to do something to find safe places for young people, where they can learn and grow with adults who really care, community adults, as well as the professionals that are trained youth development professionals. Both matter.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you all very much.