“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
– Booker T. Washington
It’s easy to be woe is me. Until you meet someone like Yesenia Romero, who puts your problems into perspective.
Read more about Yesenia’s story here: Honoring Our Youth
The story focuses on Steepletown Neighborhood Services’ Honoring Our Youth program. Visiting last week for a freelance writing assignment reminded me why I decided to pursue a degree in nonprofit work – and why I miss being a reporter.
Situated a few blocks off Seward among the steeples of Basilica of Saint Adalbert, Steepletown is a faith-based nonprofit formed as an outreach of three neighboring Catholic churches. The agency provides a variety of programs aimed at youth development and employment, family well-being, and community engagement, but its GED program is one of the most popular.
Steepletown operates in the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor, working alongside several nonprofits offering services out of Steepletown Center on Grand Rapids’ west side. Like its Facebook page. Volunteer as a tutor. There are plenty of ways to help. For more information, visit the website: Steepletown Center
The neighborhoods historically have been home to Polish, Irish and German immigrants and blue-collar, factory working folks. Today, the urban center serves Hispanic immigrants, Native Americans and a diverse population of disenfranchised youth seeking to get back on track, turn their lives around and renew their belief in themselves and the pursuit of the American dream.
Perhaps it is because the building formerly served as a convent, but Steepletown Center has a laid-back vibe upon entering. The learning lab is in the basement. Steepletown’s administrative offices are on the second floor. People are in and out and roam about, yet they tend to mind their own business. Participants address the female staffers as Miss and everyone seems kind, genuine and eager to help.
While there, Founding Director Dick Bulkowski handed me a report on the state of young people in this country. It’s not pretty. They are dropping out of high school at alarming rates. They feel disconnected. They stand last in line for jobs.
So why should you care?
There are plenty of headlines in the local news about low-performing schools, low test scores, and high dropout rates. The issue of disconnected youth, those who are either out of work or out of school, is a much larger problem plaguing the country. Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II. Only about half of young people age 16-24 held jobs in 2011, according to a Kids Count Policy Report by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This waste of talent and lack of opportunity to gain early work experience has profound implications for youth today, as well as the workforce, the economy and the nation. Data from the report shows that the populations struggling the most to enter the workforce and stay in school are youth who are less educated, come from low-income families and belong to a racial or ethnic minority.
One study estimates that for each 16-year-old out of school and out of work, the future lifetime taxpayer burden is $258,040. The same study calculates that the total taxpayer burden for all out-of-school and out-of-work youth ages 16 to 24 is $1.56 trillion.
Many of these young people also find themselves taking on the role of parent, leading them to need additional public services and perpetuating the intergenerational cycle of poverty in many communities.
Instead of being woe is me, if you are out of work and have time to spare, get involved at one of the many nonprofit organizations trying to give these youth a helping hand and a second chance. Or put down your cell phones and shut off Facebook and help your own kids so they don’t become a statistic.
For more information on The Annie E. Casey Foundation report, visit: Kids Count and search for Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity.
To get the best available data about children and families where you live, visit the site’s other resources: Data Center
Stay tuned for my own job hunting plight, and why I have had it with people who think it’s so easy to just go out and get a job.