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My Brother’s Keeper: Service and Social Innovation Creating Opportunity

by Wendy Spencer

During your life’s journey, I am sure that you can remember times when your path was made clearer or your baggage lighter because of someone who helped along the way. These thoughts came to mind today as President Obama outlined his plan to expand opportunity for boys and young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeperinitiative and a new federal task force on which I am honored to serve.

The ideas behind this initiative are part of the President’s pledge to make 2014 a “year of action” to ensure opportunity for all Americans, and I am excited about the chance to contribute to this important effort.

We join President Obama in recognizing that far too many of our boys and young men of color face obstacles that prevent them from reaching their full potential. This is not just an issue that faces a small portion of our country, it is a challenge that ripples in ways that impedes our nation’s growth and requires bold action to correct. And it will take the support of leaders in the political, business, and social sectors to provide the catalysts that create the change we seek.

President Barack Obama outlined his plan to expand opportunity for boys and young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative on Feb. 27, 2014.Fortunately, we at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) are leading programs that can contribute to the solutions that can make My Brother’s Keeper a success, while making all the difference for the boys and young men of color who need our support.

Earlier this week, CNCS announced the latest Social Innovation Fund(SIF) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), which outlines priorities that directly address many of the President’s concerns about creating economic opportunity by serving vulnerable populations and opportunity youth – young adults who are not in school or working – and provides significant dollars that can grow effective solutions today.

SIF grant competitions and our work through the Task Force on Expanding National Service not only provide meaningful opportunities to support effective programs but also demonstrate how public-private partnerships like My Brother’s Keeper can accelerate success and, ultimately, create many more avenues for boys and young men of color to achieve their dreams. And, I applaud the 10 foundations and many corporate leaders that have come together to make this cross-sector, non-partisan effort a success.

Solutions that Create Opportunity

We are proud of our ability to tap into the energy that young people bring to projects through the SIF and our national service network – ensuring that we create opportunities where everyone can contribute and experience personal growth. AmeriCorps programs have provided thousands of young people who have faced overwhelming odds an opportunity to transform their communities and their own lives through the power of service.

We know that there are different paths to success for every person, and our goal is to open doors for anyone ready to walk through – and making sure that our little children born in underserved communities get the nurture, care and support needed so so they have the same access as their peers from other ZIP codes. We have many programs that cater specifically to opportunity youth, helping them earn their high school diplomas during their term of service, as well as those that help college students explore options that may inspire careers as public servants. And all of our AmeriCorps members are eligible for a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that can help them pay back student loans

I think of Dr. King’s quote “anyone can be great because anyone can serve” today because it reminds not only of the transformative power of service for kids in need, but it also reminds me of everyone that has served, loved, and lifted me up on my path.

I hope it reminds all of us that we don’t have to be on a Presidential Task Force to make the difference, but any of us can take the time to serve our boys and young men of color. We can ensure they know they are loved, get the tools they need, and guarantee they have every opportunity to achieve their dreams.

Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. For more information about AmeriCorps’ 20th Anniversary celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal.

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