Big guns join in Powell's clean-up

President Bill Clinton, three former US presidents, their wives, and numerous American celebrities rolled up their sleeves yesterday morning and armed themselves with brooms and mops to lead 5,000 young volunteers in a glitzy clean-up of a rundown area of Philadelphia. The mass scrubbing effort in the city's litter- and graffiti-strewn Germantown district was the high-profile opening event in a three-day national convention on volunteering, grandly styled "Presidents for America's future".

The driving force behind the "summit", which brings together more than 30 state governors, 60 city mayors, about 300 business leaders and representatives of hundreds of volunteer agencies, is the retired Gulf War general, Colin Powell. The general's possible entry into US politics is still the subject of much speculation despite his decision not to run for office last year.

Mr Powell was at pains to deny any political motive to his involvement. "I'm very happy in private life," he told NBC television, "I am not in political life." However, he declined to dismiss categorically the idea that he would never stand for the presidency, and clearly relished being a black American role model.

While Mr Powell may be one of the least controversial figures in public life and the central aim of the summit - to provide through voluntary effort adult mentors, safe places, satisfactory health care and education for children in deprived areas - reflects a characteristically American emphasis on the values of private initiative and community involvement, the project has not lacked for critics. The most direct have asked how the momentum to improve inner city areas can possibly be sustained after the razzmatazz of the weekend is over.

Other criticisms are more telling. Certain politicians, on the political right and left, argue that much of the work that the volunteers are being recruited to do - teaching reading, counselling young people in difficulty - ought properly to be paid for by the state. "Teaching our children to read," said a leading Republican yesterday, "is the job of the education system." To this is added the difficulty of recruiting the right volunteers - or even any volunteers at all - to work in areas that are often dangerous for outsiders.

The cost of the campaign is also at issue. Designed to improve the living conditions of 2 million out of the 15 million children thought to live in poverty in the US, the programme has been conservatively costed at $15bn (pounds 9bn), to be paid by the state. Employers are being urged to release volunteers on full pay - a plan that is meeting resistance.

And despite its determinedly apolitical character, with a former Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, and Republicans Gerald Ford and George Bush, agreeing to take part, the summit has brought party political accusations. Mr Clinton, say some opponents, is using the summit to try to increase funding for his first-term initiative on volunteering, the Americorps. This pays $5,000 towards college fees to young people who spend a year doing community service.

Suggested Topics
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments