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From Disconnected Youth to Opportunity Youth: A Path to Success

by Michael W. Kempner

America's young people have always been a particular passion of mine. Maybe it's because I have three children or perhaps it 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.

That's why I'm so pleased to be a part of the White House Council for Community Solutions, which was created by President Obama in 2010. We've been working together for more than a year to find effective ways to help disconnected youth who are out of school and work. But before we could recommend a thing to the President, we had to hear from the young people themselves.

Listening Sessions

Last year, fellow member Jon Bon Jovi and I traveled around the country meeting with young people who found new hope through community organizations that connected them to skills and opportunities that could lead to a better life.

The tour took us to New Orleans, Atlanta, Newark, and Houston, where the problems of disconnected youth are particularly acute. We heard inspiring, moving stories from eloquent and intelligent young people determined to get on the right path again.

What stands in their way and what do they need from adults? Time and again, we heard the same thing from these young people: They need and want mentors and unwavering role models who can help them get there.

What we heard has informed the Council's efforts and our approach to make a lasting impact on disconnected young adults. While these young adults are not contributing to our economy now, they have enormous potential to bring untapped skills and leadership to the nation. That's why we consider them Opportunity Youth.

Youth want and expect to be responsible for their success. Research shows that more than half of Opportunity Youth are actively looking for full-time employment and about three-quarters of these young adults are confident that they can achieve their goals.

So what can you do?

  • Be Aware: The best way to help Opportunity Youth is by knowing the barriers they face to help them move beyond these obstacles. Your flexibility, creativity and patience are incredibly powerful tools.
  • Be an Advocate: Be a loud and visible advocate in your community, state and country for the 1 in 6 young adults who need help getting back on track in the workforce and in school.
  • Share Your Success:As you help Opportunity Youth who are trying to get a job or go back to school, share that story with others who need to better understand the urgency of our efforts. All of us need to help guide – and remind – our schools, nonprofit groups, and the private sector to better support Opportunity Youth with jobs, service opportunities, and other skill-building programs.

I hope you'll take the time to watch this video from New Orleans, where our tour started, and hear what we're hearing. Let us know what you think – we are listening.

Michael W. Kempner is the Founder (1986), President, and Chief Executive Officer of MWW Group, one of the largest independent public relations firms in the United States. Mr. Kempner also serves as an Operating Advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, helping them build companies that solve scarce resource issues and other transformative technologies.

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