TV Reviews : Heartwarming Look at 'America's Children'

Rhetoric about children usually includes the reminder that they are the nation's future, but public and private actions often suggest that that fundamental fact is of little concern. That's why "Everybody's Business: America's Children," on NBC tonight, is worth a look, even if it is one of those unsexy documentaries about do-gooders.

In this refreshing hour--yes, the term "heartwarming" applies--you'll see a sampling of efforts by volunteers across the country to invest in today's youth for a better tomorrow.

The good guys, playing against type, are some American businesses that take an excusable pat on the back for sponsoring and participating in programs for at-risk children.

In Philadelphia, a Kraft Foods executive has been mentoring a teenager for five years through the "Philadelphia Futures" program. With the executive's encouragement and understanding, the young man has made it through high school and into college, despite poverty and a difficult home situation.

In San Antonio, where students drop out of school at a numbing rate, the Coca-Cola Foundation funds the "Valued Youth" program, hiring troubled high schoolers to tutor elementary school students. One macho-looking boy movingly tells of how the program helped him overcome damaging family dysfunction and the temptation to join a gang. "It's more than a job," he says of the program, "it's an honor."

Another program gives teenagers part-time jobs at a local hospital. Some are the first in their family to ever have or hold a job. The experience is rewarding enough that most of the teenagers chosen for the program graduate from high school.

The problems facing an increasingly disenfranchised segment of the country's population are legion, but organized efforts with one-on-one action prove they don't have to be hopeless.

* "Everybody's Business: America's Children" airs at 8 tonight on NBC (Channel 4).

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