After a final exhortation beneath a crystal-blue sky at Independence Hall, 3,000 weary but enthusiastic delegates and guests at the Presidents’ Summit were sent back to communities across the country Tuesday as missionaries of a new ethic of volunteer service.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton bade them farewell with the hope that volunteerism, especially on behalf of children, would become a “habit of the heart” for millions of Americans.
Gen. Colin Powell, general chairman of the summit, told the crowd he had a ready rejoinder for any corporate executive reluctant to contribute toward aiding children. If a CEO told him his firm needed to tend to its bottom line instead, Powell said he would reply: “Invite me to your next shareholder meeting. I wish to speak to them.”
The delegates, seated in the bright sun, facing a flag-draped stage in front of Independence Hall filled with luminaries and the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra, responded with loud applause.
Former President George Bush, the only president who stayed for all three days of the summit, said the event was “fine, a lot of glitz … but what matters is what you all do now.”
The finale ended three days of remarkably intense focus on volunteer work and how it can - and sometimes cannot - meet the needs of millions of at-risk American children.
The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future brought four presidents and four first ladies to Philadelphia, as well as half of President Clinton’s Cabinet, 30 governors, more than 100 mayors, scores of celebrities, and hundreds of leaders from the business, religious, and nonprofit worlds.
Their oft-repeated message to the 2,000 delegates was a summons to help ensure that every child has a caring adult, a “healthy start” on life, safe places to play and learn, a marketable skill, and an opportunity to give back to the community.
“You are the real troops,” said Powell, whose “America’s Promise” organization is committed to working on summit themes for three years.
“It was the work that you did yesterday and this morning that is giving life, that is giving a pulse to this effort of ours that will make it successful,” he said.
Powell, who won the longest and loudest applause from the Independence Hall crowd, sought to assure skeptics that the pledges collected by the organizers would improve the lives of millions of children.
“We’re going to glue this together,” he said, “and make a reality of the promises made here in Philadelphia.”