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Youth

As one of the coordinators of the White House Mentorship Program I was moved by HandsOn Greater DC Cares' new initiative to encourage for-profit corporations to provide mentoring opportunities for under-served youth in the Greater D.C. Community. The organization demonstrates the importance of bringing public and private sectors to together to better serve our communities.

This afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to deliver hundreds of toys that White House staff donated to Toys for Tots, an annual holiday toy drive organized by the Marines. She thanked volunteers and military families for their hard work and dedication to the 60-year old program.

What do you get when you combine 200+ colleges, universities and seminaries; individuals from different religious backgrounds and beliefs; and an abiding passion for serving communities?

Last fall, about 360,000 youth, educators, and community partners began a year-long campaign to demonstrate the potential of education powered by service. Through the Learn and Serve Challenge, they pledged to engage in service-learning activities to help more young people understand how their education is relevant in the real world.

Physical activity is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and it can be especially important in helping kids do better in school. U.S. Health and Human Services studies show that regular physical activity for kids and teens improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, and increases self-esteem. Parents, teachers, and community leaders can all play a supportive role, and help encourage a healthy lifestyle by promoting physical activity into everyday routines.

How do we open up economic opportunity to every young adult in America? As a former high-tech entrepreneur, CEO, and philanthropist, I have tried to tackle challenges that were similarly daunting and seemingly intractable. I've found that the “path forward” is almost always the same – large scale social change requires an “all hands on deck” approach that is proactive, focused, and inclusive.

America's young people have always been a particular passion of mine. Maybe it's because I have three children or perhaps it's because I work with a staff of young professionals who keep me thinking young. In working with young people, I've come to hold one truth above all: the youth of America have the power to change the world if we give them the tools, the mentorship, and the opportunity to do it.

Communities have a long history of coming together to revitalize and transform their areas. From the settlement houses of the late 19th century to the 1960s War on Poverty, communities have been collaborating for centuries to improve their surroundings.

Throughout time, a community has often determined the success or failure of its members. A youth’s environment shapes the adult they will become, so it is critical that young people are surrounded by positive role models and caring adults in a nurturing community.

May is a time of graduations, fresh spring air and new beginnings. But for many, graduation from high
school or college is far from a reality, and opportunities for a fresh start are out of reach. At least one in
six young people ages 16-24 are disconnected from school and work – the two pathways that provide
the greatest hope for a bright and productive future. Yet, these young people dream of building careers
and making important contributions to our communities. That's why we see them as “Opportunity
Youth.”

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