If the 1970s was the "me decade" and the 1980s the "decade of greed," some analysts think the 1990s is emerging as the "we decade." After spells of looking inward, then grabbing as big a slice of the pie as possible, Americans are rediscovering meaning in togetherness and giving to those in need.
That's wishful thinking, perhaps, but it is the hope of the organizers of the Presidents' Summit for America's Future. The April summit's goal was to mobilize 2 million volunteers by the year 2000 to help "at risk" children and to enlist the support of corporate America. The volunteers are to serve as mentors and models to children and youth, ensuring their safety and health, giving them the tools to succeed through education, and encouraging them to serve in their own communities.
The crisis among America's youth is acute: According to one report, 14.7 million American children (21 percent) lived in poverty in 1995, 2.1 million more than in 1989. Almost 10 million children (one in seven) have no health insurance, 3 million are abused every year, and more than a half-million teens belong to gangs. Teen violence, suicides, and pregnancy are all on the increase.
With such daunting needs, it is strange that the faith community was given a seat at the back of the bus en route to the volunteer summit, especially since more than half of American volunteers credit faith as their motive. Religious leaders were not at first included in planning the event, and when they were invited to join, the religious leaders involved felt marginalized by the political and business interests already engaged.
The potential for volunteering should not be overlooked. For example, an African-American young adult testified recently in my church that he was mentored ...