Answered Prayers

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Advocates of national service were thrilled when Bill Clinton made the expansion of federal support for community service opportunities a centerpiece of his 1992 campaign for the presidency. Once in the White House, Clinton successfully built on the work of the Bush I era's Commission on National and Community Service to launch AmeriCorps, now the largest ($231 million this year) component under the umbrella of the Corporation for National Service (CNS). But its very labeling as Clinton's signature domestic program helped make it a prime target of some conservatives in Congress, led by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). It didn't help when Clinton crony Eli Segal, a Boston toy company owner and major campaign fund-raiser, was tapped to run CNS when it officially opened for business in 1993. What would happen to national service, worried its many supporters, when a Republican regained the White House?

That eventuality and its attendant danger for CNS was not lost on Segal's successor in 1995, Harris Wofford, who had lost his Pennsylvania Senate seat in the GOP rout of Democrats in the 1994 elections. Over the next five years, Wofford, working closely with Grassley and other Republicans in Congress, recast CNS in ways that softened critics and won many converts, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Out on Wofford's watch were groups like ACORN in Brooklyn, which staged an anti-Newt Gingrich demonstration when the new House Speaker visited New York. In was spending on AmeriCorps education awards that paid each participant $4,725 in a lump sum earmarked for further formal education after a year's service. Far more than any other Clinton administration official, Wofford hooked on to the red wagon at the April 1997 Presidents' Summit on Volunteerism in Philadelphia, and to America's Promise: The Alliance for Youth (AP), which grew from the summit. Wofford became and remains second only to Colin Powell as a booster for AP and its five promises, especially community service. Soon, Wofford was funding 500 Promise Fellows who earn $13,300 per year and are assigned to AP-linked "Communities of Promise." And AP's ranks of 50-strong staff  have become a happy hunting ground for former CNS staff, including Melinda Hudson, AP's senior vice president of commitments. The most recent recruit, Chris Minor, Wofford's former CNS chief of staff, has been designated national director of youth services and leadership initiatives at AP, responsible for recruiting youth for the organization's board. Thanks to Wofford, Congress and AP's now "honorary chairman," Secretary of State Powell, AP is flush with a $7.5 million line item in CNS' FY'01 budget, which will double AP's annual spending.

Critics charge that Wofford dumbed down AmeriCorps, substituting flaccid tutoring programs for potentially controversial community organizing efforts. But the political yield for CNS has been marvelous. In September, 49 governors (29 of them Republican, including George W. Bush of Texas, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and CNS board member Marc Racicot of Montana) endorsed reauthorization of the CNS.

Still, some thought AmeriCorps' situation was as precarious as a hanging chad on a Supreme Court docket and that only divine intervention could save AmeriCorps when George W. moved into the White House. AmeriCorps' divine moment arrived like a bolt of lightning. On day 10 of his presidency, Bush announced the creation of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Expected to lead the office was Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and creator and relentless promoter of the Front Porch Alliance, which linked religious groups to city hall (see "Indy Builds a Front Porch, Gov. Bush Likes the View," Youth Today, May 2000). Instead, the president named Goldsmith as his special advisor and the spokesman for the new White House Office. The office is headed by University of Pennsylvania professor John DiIulio, former senior counsel and board member of Public/Private Ventures and the now apparently repentant evangelist-in-chief of labeling troubled teens as "superpredators." (See "'Super-Predators': The Making of a Myth," Youth Today, April 1999). DiIulio's office will have an initial staff of 10, including Don Eberly, a former GOP White House and congressional aide, civil society theorist and chair of the board of the National Fatherhood Initiative, directed by Wade Horn. Also on board is Don Willett, an aide to Gov. Bush in Texas. Compassionate conservative guru Marvin Olasky calls DiIulio (Catholic), Goldsmith (Jewish), and Eberly and Willet (Protestant) "the Faith Fab Four." Coming soon for the untested office: baptism by fire.

Lost amid the Hallelujahs for the faith-based initiative coming from such White House participants as Sara Melendez, president of Independent Sector, Bob Woodson, Sr., president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and Sister Mary Rose McGeady, president of Covenant House, was the president's announcement that he would nominate Goldsmith for one of two vacancies on CNS' 15-member board.

In the long run, while the faith-based initiative gets the ink, the Bush endorsement of AmeriCorps and his placing it under Goldsmith may prove to be the more significantly positive development for youth-serving agencies.

Goldsmith, whose appointment to replace Wofford was reportedly his for the asking, unfortunately isn't making his first appearance on the national stage of children and youth policy. In 1984, Marion County (Indianapolis) prosecutor Goldsmith was appointed to the nine-member U.S. Attorney General's Advisory Board on Missing Children. In authorizing the board, Congress thought the body would advise on how to prevent or resolve cases of stranger or parentally abducted children. But a non-member of the board, John Milligan - a former Ohio juvenile court judge, past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and a zealot for locking up status offenders -  deftly hijacked the board as its staff writer and authored "America's Missing & Exploited Children: Their Safety and Their Future."

The Goldsmith-endorsed report was a doozie even by the harsh-on-teens standards of then-Attorney General Ed Meese's Justice Department. Declaring that the policy of deinstitutionalizing status offenders endorsed by Congress with the 1974 passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) "has clearly failed," the report recommended that Congress change the JJDPA "to take into custody and safely control runaway and homeless children." The JJDPA and its companion Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, were "driving children into the hands of exploiters and cults," a pejorative term often hurled at Christianity during its first three centuries.

Back in 1986, when Goldsmith's report was issued, the JJDPA's policy was, the report declared, "handcuffing" that singular agent of the state, the police. Now Goldsmith wants to re-handcuff the state and trust the very CBOs, many headed by clergy, who were responsible for "hundreds of thousands of homeless, runaway and throwaway children roaming the streets of our major cities." Twenty-five years ago, when the JJDPA passed, an estimated 500,000 runaways and status offenders were jailed annually with no appreciable effect on discouraging runaway episodes. Just a year before the Runaway Youth Act passed, 23 runaways in Houston were molested and murdered by a serial killer. Thanks to the JJDPA and RHYA, by 1986 the number locked up was down to an estimated 38,000, a change universally hailed by many juvenile justice experts (a category that certainly doesn't include Professor DiIulio) as the JJDPA's single greatest accomplishment. If the recommendations of Goldsmith and his colleagues had been carried out, just where would these "safely control[led]" teens go? Apparently to then-as-now chronically overcrowded urban detention centers, thought Goldsmith & Co.

Fortunately, the only thing missing after the report was issued was the Missing Children's Advisory Board itself. Appalled by the strident, woefully impractical report and the unwarranted attack on faith-based and secular service providers for runaway and homeless youth, Congress abolished the panel.

City Year's Hopes

If Boston-based City Year has its way, those 500 promise fellows will have foreign company. In New York on Feb. 5, former President Bill Clinton stole time away from office hunting and shipping furniture back to Washington to endorse City Year's first international venture: the Clinton Democracy Fellowship Program. The program, says Alan Khazei, who co-founded City Year in 1988, will bring 20 young leaders (22 to 30) active in promoting community service to the U.S. each year beginning in June 2002. "All the money will be raised privately," says Khazei, who spent a year visiting national service efforts in other countries in 1995-96.

City Year has been a Clinton favorite since a 1991 campaign visit made during his run for the White House. During the Clinton administration, City Year received funding from the Corporation for National Service to expand to its current 13 locations from Columbia, S.C., to San Jose. Eli Segal, CNS' first CEO, now chairs City Year's 16-member board, which includes Timberland CEO Jeffery Schwartz. The duo are expected to help Clinton bankroll the Clinton Democracy Fellowships' budget of about $400,000 per year. Contact: (617) 927-2500,