Twenty years after the Presidents' Summit for America’s Future (which focused on the well-being of children and youths) and the launch of America’s Promise Alliance, Gen. Colin and Alma Powell wrote an open letter to America about their cause, and in this special Q&A, they share how anyone can make a difference in the life of a young person.

What is one thing that has improved over the past 20 years for kids? And what is one thing that still needs to be addressed?

Gen. Colin Powell: So many things have improved over the past 20 years. One thing that immediately comes to mind is the improvement in the high school graduation rate.

Thanks to the work of millions of students, families, educators, policymakers and community leaders, the nation's on-time high school graduation rate is up from 65.7 percent 20 years ago to a record 83.2 percent today. Students of color and students from low-income families have made the greatest gains, and 2.8 million additional students have graduated since 2001 rather than dropping out.

With that said, we have a long way to go to reach the GradNation goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020. And we need to do more to close the graduation gaps that remain for students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners and homeless students.

What's the easiest thing an everyday citizen can do to start making a difference for kids?

Alma Powell: Children in this country have always had to overcome enormous odds and systemic barriers to reach their American dream. Our research has shown that the presence of stable, trusting adult relationships in the lives of young people is a key factor—perhaps the key factor—in keeping them in school and on a path toward success. So, while there's no shortage of challenges, the worst thing that could happen to young people is our failure to act on their behalf. When we believe in young people, they believe in themselves.

If every American did just one thing in this cause to recommit to kids, the future of our country would be transformed. And every one of us can do something, starting today, whether it's volunteering at your local Boys & Girls Club, writing a letter of inspiration or encouragement to show you care, donating to a youth-serving organization or being a caring adult in the life of a young person. Instead of searching for a single solution, we should strive to summon a collective will.

What's one unexpected thing parents can do to make a difference for their kids?

Gen. Powell: Providing children with opportunities to serve can make more of a difference in a young person's life than many people expect. The commitment that comes from serving others creates deep ties between a child and his or her community while instilling values like kindness, generosity and pride. Our children can make a difference in others' lives while enriching their own.

What are the three most powerful words (that aren't "I love you") that you can say to a young person?

Alma Powell: "See you tomorrow." Young people require consistency from caring adults. They need to know that someone will have their back, no matter the stresses and difficulties they're experiencing. Making a difference in a child's life isn't about a one-time flash of engagement; it's about the long-term glow of commitment.

To read "Our Cause: A Letter to America," by Colin and Alma Powell, and to learn more about how you can get involved, visit America's Promise Alliance marks 20 years with Recommit to Kids | The Summit for America's Future and the 20th Anniversary Promise Night gala on April 18 in New York City.

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