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Editorial - Giving children a hand

April 28, 1997

The national summit on community service now taking place in Philadelphia is welcome for its emphasis on the needs of America's children, but it will take more than a few ex-presidents slapping paint on a graffiti-covered wall to boost volunteer service over the long term.

If this movement is to become more than a once-a-year nod to children's needs (like planting a tree on Earth Day has become a nod to the environmental movement) it will take more than individual decisions to volunteer.

Why is that? Because the need for mentors and tutors for young people comes at a time when it's common for both parents to work full-time. Couple that with the fact that there are a rising number of single-parent households and many businesses which want to get the maximum production out of a minimum number of employees and it all adds up to less private time available to devote to volunteering.

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The answer is something to President Clinton alluded to in his statements about the summit - a corporate commitment to help. We're not talking about dollars so much as we are support for those employees who do provide services to needy children.

A child who needs help with reading or math needs that help during the school day, not at 7 p.m. at night. A business commitment to releasing some employees for an hour or two during the school day - with pay, if possible - for that purpose would go a long way toward getting the job done.

To those executives who might grouse that such activities don't add to their bottom line, we would say this: Neither does the tax money that goes to pay for prisons to house at-risk children who grew up without the skills or motivation to hold a meaningful job.

Motivated children who learn needed skills early might be that corporation's future customers or even its employees. Business leaders who aren't in favor of such an approach should ask themselves who they'd rather meet in the company parking lot 10 years from now - an educated employee, looking to achieve, or an uneducated stranger, looking for whatever he can get.

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