Last week, I joined a community conversation organized by the United Way of the Bay Area. It was one of five forums in my region, of more than 100 gatherings in 30 cities across the country this spring. These events are bringing together local leaders, youth, and citizens to map out a plan to help young people find paths to economic independence.
For the San Francisco Bay Area, last week's forum was a time to listen, share experiences, and discuss how all can contribute to a sustained community-wide effort to help young people make informed decisions about their future.
Coming out of the dialogue, I am inspired and energized by the creative ideas and preliminary commitments that are beginning to take shape. As partners raised their hands, it was proof that this community cares and I expect many exciting announcements in the coming weeks that have the potential to connect Opportunity Youth with the employment-related experiences they need to create a secure life for themselves and their families.
What moved me most was that the companies around the table “get it.” Regardless of what they produce or the service they provide – or how much exposure they have had to disconnected youth – each understands that every young person is an “Opportunity Youth” with the potential to strengthen our economy with skills and leadership.
Most employers fully admitted to having very little experience helping at-risk youth as a career mentor. They are not currently hiring young people, especially those who lack education or skills – and don't know how to start. But the fact that they came to the table as leaders and engaged on this issue was monumental.
I have a different perspective as my company, Revolution Foods, has employed a number of disconnected youth. I've come to understand the unique challenges associated with helping young people transition into a job with little real-world work experience. Community partners were there from the start to help with the “heavy lift.” From screening applications, to employee coaching and retention support, we never felt like we were working alone.
Today, I believe Revolution Foods has a successful youth employment program. Every day, I see the value that an entry-level job or internship can have in shaping our youth and their work ethic, confidence, and ability to take on responsibility. An opportunity like this can help them begin to shape their career and see the possibility of a different life.
In the Bay Area, we have a strong foundation in the United Way's MatchBridge program to help all young people find a place in our workforce – and a robust network of supports to help all employers jump start their youth training programs. Young people are also stepping up to “own” this issue and I can feel the growing momentum in our communities through the work of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the White House Council for Community Solutions, and United Way.
The President's commitment to this issue and challenge to the nation is clear: Everyone has a role to play in creating opportunities for young people. On the Council, we know that listening to the perspectives of youth and communities and sharing what we're hearing will be essential for finding authentic and effective solutions.
Kristin Richmond currently serves as co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Revolution Foods. Ms. Richmond founded Revolution Foods in 2005 in order to serve healthy meals and offer nutrition education to low income students. She serves as a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions.