Philadelphia summit inspires more summits but few volunteers
Oct. 25, 1997
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Six months ago, legions of bright-faced volunteers converged on Philadelphia with a dream of inspiring Americans to heed their call and donate time to the nation's needy children.
Beyond raising awareness and expectations and generating more meetings and a slight increase in donations, however, the Philadelphia extravaganza appears to have fallen short of President Clinton's highly proclaimed hopes for an outpouring of volunteer enthusiasm.
``In terms of volunteers, we haven't seen any wild spikes for any one particular organization in any particular region at this point,'' said Paul Clolery, editor of NonProfit Times, a monthly trade publication.
However, he said, ``the summit ... got the nation's attention on how vitally important it is to volunteer, so from a public awareness standpoint, it was obviously an unqualified success.''
Alan Abramson, director of the Aspen Institute's Nonprofit Sector Research Fund in Washington, cautioned that actually changing volunteering patterns won't come easy because it requires people to rearrange the way they spend their time.
``I think the summit doesn't hurt, and it certainly gave a lot of attention to volunteering, but whether a one-shot event like that is going to have long-term effect is not clear,'' Abramson said.
Community teams who attended the summit said they have seen enormous interest in pursuing the summit's goals but not a rush to volunteer.
``We haven't seen an outpouring, no,'' said Lisa Moore, director of the Clinton County Youth Bureau in Plattsburgh, N.Y. But she said participating agencies plan to meet, and she hopes the gatherings will spur the kind of volunteerism that did not come from the Philadelphia summit.
Likewise, Diane Wright, director of Volunteer Center of United Way of Central Carolinas, Inc. in Charlotte, N.C., said she hopes a summit there will help revive the momentum of the Philadelphia meeting.
``Keeping the goals alive is not as challenging as keeping the momentum up that we experienced from the summit,'' Wright said.
Such local ``minisummits,'' designed to replicate on a small scale the original event, were recommended in Philadelphia to keep the volunteering spirit alive. Organizers say at least 100 have been or will be held.
Hundreds of volunteers are expected to gather in Washington today to mark the annual Make a Difference Day and listen to retired Gen. Colin Powell, who headed the Philadelphia summit, talk about volunteering.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich planned several weekend appearances in his Georgia district _ including a Race for the Cure one-mile walk, a Habitat for Humanity building project and a middle school street-cleaning project _ to mark the event.
When Clinton, former Presidents Bush, Carter and Ford and Powell stood on the steps of Philadelphia's Independence Hall last April, they hoped to inspire the nation to improve the lives of at least two million of America's 15 million poor children by the end of 2000.
By then, organizers of the Presidents' Summit for America's Future hope, each child will have a stable relationship with at least one adult, a safe place to go after school, adequate health care, marketable skills and an opportunity to serve the community.
The summit's follow-up group, America's Promise, the Alliance for Youth, said it cannot give a comprehensive assessment of the past six months but is compiling a progress report for release next month.
Spokesman Jeff Wender said initial reports indicate at least 50 more corporations and nonprofit organizations have joined the 250 that pledged before the summit to help American youth in the five-point program.
``We're in the second inning, and it looks good to me,'' said Harris Wofford, who heads the AmeriCorps national service program. ``The measure is ... not how many volunteers generally are involved. ... It is how many young people we reach and turn around.''
Jon Van Til, who directs Rutgers University's Citizenship and Service Education Program in Camden, N.J., said that to really advance the summit's ``very, very ambitious goals,'' local community teams should be augmented.
``I view the corporate contributions as largely an amount of hype, of people moving a contribution that they would have given anyway and signaling it as part of the process,'' Van Til said.
``But I think the really genuine human commitment that the summit delegates made is not being supported.''
Rubielen Norris, president of United Way of Northeast Georgia in Athens, Ga., agreed.
Norris has been unable to start a volunteer center in her area because she doesn't have the money. She reported her problem to America's Promise, which sent her an application for a grant.
``We don't know if we'll get it, and we don't know how much,'' Norris said, adding she is unclear about what America's Promise was ``supposed to do for us.''
``We did get the feeling that we were brought together, there was a lot of hype and glitz, and of course, that was wonderful,'' she said. ``And then we were sent home to do our thing, but we need more help to get it done.''