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100 Days to Go “All In” For Youth

by Patty Stonesifer

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. You must understand the facts, have a clear goal, highlight what works, and partner with others to promote solutions and advocate for change. And, most importantly, EVERYONE has a role to play.

Now, as Chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions – created by President Obama in 2010 to help shine a light on the incredible power of communities to come together to solve problems – I have the privilege of working with CEOs, communities, nonprofits, and young people across the country who are all committed to helping Opportunity Youth – the 6.7 million young people ages 16-24 that are out of work and school – get back on track. That's one in six young adults who are disconnected from the places that offer them the most opportunity for a productive and successful future.

6.7 million disconnected youth is a big number, and a national priority. The good news: these young adults have enormous potential to bring untapped skills to the nation. The Council is committed to going “All In for Youth” over the next 100 days – connecting all citizens across all sectors to tackle this priority. We are committed to serving these young people and hope to be a catalyst for change – championing the ideal that every American has skills and talents to give. Here's why.

We can't afford to ignore youth.

In 2011, taxpayers shouldered more than $93 billion in costs and lost revenue to support these youth. These costs will increase to $1.6 trillion over their lifetimes if we don't act now. Opportunity Youth are essential for maintaining America's competitiveness and national security.

Youth are ready to do their part.

The problem is big, but youth are up to the challenge. Research tells us 73 percent are confident they can achieve their goals, 77 percent accept responsibility for their future, and 54 percent are actively looking for full-time jobs right now.

All In: There are tools and models that are working.

Progress is possible. One successful model I've seen is called YouthBuild, an AmeriCorps program. This program works with high school dropouts (age 16-24) to help them earn their GED/diploma while they master job skills through building low-income housing.

  • In 2010, of the 78 percent who completed the program – more than 60 percent earned a GED or high school diploma. Three in five continued on to college and/or jobs paying an average of $9.20 per hour.
  • Recidivism rates for court-involved YouthBuild students are 40 percentage points lower than the national average.

Everyone – including businesses, educators, communities, and nonprofits must do their part to support youth and create solutions that work. Through smart collaboration, we can create the jobs, internships and skill-building opportunities to help these young adults succeed. We've created toolkits to provide employers and communities with the information and resources needed to get started now.

Over the next 100 days, we'll be sharing stories from Council Members, communities, and youth on what is being done to connect young people with the support and opportunity they need to succeed. We'll find out what's working, what isn't, and how we can best engage the youth in our country.

I hope you will join us as we go All In for Youth. Let's see what we can accomplish together over the next 100 days.

Patty Stonesifer is the Chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions and recently completed a three-year term as Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents. Following a two-decade career in technology, Ms. Stonesifer helped to establish the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and served as CEO from 1997-2008.

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