Notes from the President: Potential (Fall 2004 Trust Magazine)
Casey Stengel had a way of seeing life in its simplest terms. Asked about the potential of a particular 20-year-old rookie, he replied, "Well, in 10 years he has a good chance of being 30."
In truth, it is easier to talk about sure things—like an individual's age at a given date in the future—than about what that person might accomplish from now until then, and that's what the canny baseball manager was pointing out to his interviewer. For achievement is not merely a matter of making the most of our potential. It's also about having a solid system or structure that supports our drive to turn potential into accomplishment.
The Trusts has always believed that potential exists to be fulfilled—in individuals and in institutions. Idealistic, perhaps, but feasible when we can apply our talents, energy and intellect within supportive systems.
Nothing more cruelly defeats our optimism than to see potential crushed in our children, but the sad fact is that many children in foster care have bleak life prospects. Indeed, the very system intended as a temporary safe haven too often becomes a way of life.
Our studies have identified two bottlenecks in the foster care system: federal financing incentives and local court accountability. The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care—with bipartisan leadership and membership—addressed these problems over the past year, and its recommendations, issued this spring, have been praised by members of Congress, judicial associations and the media. Our partners are carrying the commission's work forward with projects conducting nonpartisan research and education activities to encourage policy action on the recommendations.
There is, in our nation, a gaping, unrealized potential among young adults who dissociate themselves from any form of civic engagement. These civic slackers—now more than 50 percent of the 24 million 18-to-24-year-olds often referred to as Generation Y—do not contribute to community activities or volunteer for anything. Nor do they go to the polls.
It turns out, however, that young people register to vote if they are asked, especially by people in their own age group. And that's the premise of the Trusts-supported, nonpartisan New Voters Project, with canvassers in six states going where young people live, work and play.
The Trusts has invested some $23 million over the last 10 years on voting research and outreach efforts, all of it nonpartisan and issue-neutral. Voting, our studies show, is a habit, and registration is the first step in encouraging lifelong participation in the democratic process and awakening the potential of an engaged citizenry.
Institutions have potential, too—which our board had in mind three years ago when it charged us to position the Trusts for the future, just as, in 1948, our founders established an organization that could effectively address issues that matter most to the American public. The current board, which contains members of the Pew family, wants the Trusts to be equally able to address today's concerns, many of which did not exist 56 years ago. Board members directed us to determine the best possible structure to support our work in serving the public interest.
We conducted a thorough and diligent process that resulted in the Trusts' receiving all of the regulatory and legal approvals to become a public charity, which took effect at the start of this year. This transformation gives us more flexibility to perform our work, including the capacity to operate our own programs for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. It also enables us to work with new partners in raising additional resources to accomplish our shared public interest goals.
Some changes are already evident. As the new design of this publication indicates, our programmatic work is now clustered into three distinct areas: informing the public, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. Our principal information projects are now housed in a subsidiary, the Pew Research Center, and the advantages of that structure are discussed in this issue. In July the Lenfest Ocean Program, the first of our innovative partnerships under our new status, was launched; the program, which is described inside, is funded by a six-year, $20 million grant from The Lenfest Foundation, Inc., and managed by the Trusts.
Many aspects of the Trusts have not changed. We continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct and transparency. Our focus remains sharply defined. Our information projects are valued as credible sources for polling data and independent, nonpartisan research on key topics and trends. On issues where the facts are clear, we are a forceful advocate for policy solutions and positive change. And we maintain our commitment in support of the arts, heritage, health and well-being of our diverse citizenry and civic life, especially in the Philadelphia area.
Where do we want to be in a decade? Not simply "10 years older." Our transformation into a public charity enhances our ability to serve the public interest with even greater impact than before. We intend to fulfill that new potential with the stewardship, innovation and accountability that have guided us from the start.