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N.Y.C. Meeting Is in the Neighborhood for Many

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New York--More than 2,000 foundation officers, trustees, and others filled the hallways and meeting rooms of the New York Hilton and Towers last week for the annual conference of the Council on Foundations, a national association of community, corporate, and private grantmaking organizations.

It was the largest group of participants to attend the annual conference since the council was founded in 1949--not surprisingly, given that New York City is the nation's unofficial foundation capital.

Slightly more than one-tenth of the nation's foundations, or about 3,700 grantmakers, call New York City home. That group includes some of the largest American foundations and collectively controls about 22 percent, or more than $32 billion, of U.S. foundation assets.

While New York continues to outrank other regions in philanthropy, a recent report by the Foundation Center notes, its dominance has diminished over the past few decades as large new foundations have sprung up across the country.

"Philanthropy and the Challenge of the City'' was the theme of this year's conference. James A. Joseph, the president of the council, and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry G. Cisneros explored some of the issues faced by the nation's cities at a luncheon.

"Cities continue to be the key to America's future; I am convinced of that,'' Mr. Cisneros told the foundation leaders.

Mr. Cisneros, a four-term Mayor of San Antonio and a former head of the National League of Cities, called for foundations to get involved in more public-private partnerships.

Within the government, Secretary Cisneros said, the Clinton Administration hopes to improve cross-agency coordination and collaboration. He noted that he had just met the previous day with Madeleine M. Kunin, the deputy secretary of education, to discuss strategies for improving schools near housing projects.

The voices of young people were particularly evident at this year's conference. Teenagers spoke on several topics, including violence and addressing the needs of gay youths.

Students were even present among the news media. About a dozen 8- to 18-year-old reporters and editors from the New York bureau of the Children's Express news service covered the conference.

One panel, on the role of youths in community-building, was led by high school students and young adults. The oldest of the group was Martin Dunn, 27, the executive director of the East New York Urban Youth Corps.

Mr. Dunn and other panelists urged foundations to support efforts that make youths' opinions heard and to embrace strategies that approach young people as resources rather than as problems.

"If you don't give youth positive outlets for the use of power, they'll find other ones,'' Mr. Dunn said.

"It takes leadership skills to be a 17-year-old drug dealer and have three 14-year-olds working for you,'' he argued. With some guidance, the ability to recruit, manage, and motivate younger peers could be channeled toward constructive action, he said.

The panel was moderated by Tony Deifell, 25, a professional photographer and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who founded From the Hip, a project of the Campus Outreach and Opportunity League.

With the help of a grant from the Commission on National and Community Service, From the Hip recruited about 280 photographers and writers younger than 25 to document the experiences of their peers in community service. An exhibit of the group's photos and essay was displayed in a hotel hallway.

Exhibitions here and elsewhere have been supported by private grantmakers: the American Express Foundation, the Lotus Development Corporation, the Polaroid Foundation, the Bank of Boston, and the Ryka ROSE Foundation.--MEG SOMMERFELD

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