Youth Today: Promises, Promises.
By Karen Pittman, July 1997
The President's Summit for America's Future unleashed an unprecedented wave of national commitments, local mobilization, media coverage and individual good will. The question at hand is obvious. Will America's Promise be able to ride that wave to shore? As one who was there before, during and immediately after the Summit, I have this answer: It has to.
The post-Summit months for America's Promise — The Alliance for Youth have been challenging. The short-term urgencies challenged an exhausted set of volunteers and on-loan professionals whose planning time, in spite of the best of intentions, was completely consumed by the Summit. Before we could take a breath, tens of thousands of calls and letters came in asking for materials, speakers, publicity kits, monitoring tools, meeting dates, implementation plans and general guidance. In some cases they were not addressed well. America's confidence in America's Promise was challenged.
The post-Summit months in America have been inspiring. Community delegations went back home jazzed. Some floundered, but most kicked in — expanding the leadership, generating local media coverage, planning summit and events. Summit commitment makers didn't renege after the lights died down. Most of the promise makers are actively engaged in implementation planning. Despite the predictions of cynics, new commitments are flooding in, new communities are coming on board. America's Promise's confidence in America was affirmed.
There is no doubt that the momentum of the Summit could be leveraged a hundred-fold if commitments were linked, communities networked, messages strengthened and progress publicized in common ways. But there is also no doubt that momentum could be squelched if the processes put in place are too cumbersome, prescriptive, bureaucratic.
Finding the balance between laissez faire and central command approaches is critical. But so is action. It is definitely time to act. America's young people need America to make the promises real. America needs an America's Promise — a central touch point for commitments, communications, commentary and common sense — to urge it to keep and connect these promises.
What should America's Promise do? Lead by example. The country is listening. America's Promise has the moral imperative to call for everything that needs to be done to achieve the over-arching goal — to get two million additional young people connected to the five fundamental resources by the end of the year 2000. America's Promise needs to do more than rally. It must be a unifying voice that both captures and critiques what is going on across the country. It must articulate a bold vision for America's children and youth, offer a bold analysis of what it will take to make this a reality, and continually broadcast a bold challenge to make it happen.
What should it call for? You know the drill. Significant increases in the five fundamental resources: Caring adults, safe/stimulating places, healthy starts, marketable skills, opportunities to give back.
Who should it call? Individuals and organizations in each of the five sectors: nonprofits, business, education, faith, government. This is not just about volunteerism. It is about voluntary (i.e., non-mandatory) action on the part of organizations, corporations, associations and government agencies.
How should it connect? Secure quality commitments. Support communities as they take on the charge of leveraging and coordinating these commitments. Enhance communication among and about commitment makers. Implement counting to document and demonstrate that these commitments are making a difference. Spark coordination and connections — encourage alliances.
We can be cynical and let the organization die, drift or derail. But if America's Promise dies, so does a once in a lifetime chance to ingrain a universal acceptance of the importance of youth and youth supports into the mores of American life. America's Promise is not just another new organization. It is America's Promise — it is your alliance. Shape it. Watch it. Use it.
Pittman, K. (1997, July). "Promises, Promises." Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment. A version of this article appears in Youth Today.
Karen Pittman is executive director of the Forum for Youth Investment.
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