Summit Starts as Presidents Clean Up Inner-City Street Thousands Gather in Philadelphia to Promote Volunteerism

Article excerpt

In a festive kickoff of a three-day national conference on volunteerism, ordinary people stood shoulder-to-shoulder Sunday with the president and two former presidents, in a frenzy of paint-up, cleanup, fix-up along north Philadelphia's gritty Germantown Avenue.

Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter, along with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalyn Carter splashed pastel paint on the grimy, graffiti-soiled walls along the thoroughfare marred by razor wire and bullet holes.

Also taking part were Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper. Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, the instigator of the event, raked trash. Former President Gerald Ford and former President Ronald Reagan's wife, Nancy, are attending but did not participate in the cleanup. Putting down his crutches, Clinton limped along the stained wall of a pool hall and spread a coat of beige paint, careful to keep dribbles off his shoes. A few blocks away, Bush wore a baseball cap to keep the paint out of his hair. Somebody asked Mrs. Bush if her husband was a handyman. "Well," she said, pausing. "No." The summit, originally a brainchild of the late George W. Romney, drew delegates from 150 communities in 50 states, government dignitaries, corporate leaders and community activists who gathered to devise ways for private citizens and businesses to improve children's lives. Nonpartisanship was the watchword of the day. "Today we're just Americans - not Republicans, not Democrats, not Jews or gentiles, not rich or poor or black or white," Bush declared. He did not mention the fact that Clinton had belittled Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" call for volunteerism during their 1992 contest for the presidency. Powell and Gore, who may be presidential rivals in 2000, referred to each other with studied courtesy. The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff introduced Gore as "our distinguished vice president." Gore replied that all Americans had Powell to thank "for leading this effort on the ground." Residents welcomed the attention. While watching the president paint, Malcolm Jefferson, 27, said, "He gets to see it the way we have to live in it." Steven Washington, 14, one of the volunteers who worked beside Clinton, said, "I found out something. The superstars and everything, people that are really up there, are just regular people." Washington discovered something else. On his left arm he had painted the telephone number of a girl he had met on the job. Another painter, Quran Fulton, 16, warned that the graffiti would be back within a month. …