Established businesses are the perfect vehicle to produce change and empower today’s youth. Whether it’s because a particular cause is close to a CEO’s heart or because young people are the talent pool of the future, companies nationwide are investing in youth. The programs they’re creating and investing in are often successfully bridging the gaps between America’s economic classes. Here are five ways you and your company can be part of this change.
1. Work toward closing the technology gap.
One of the biggest challenges to urban youth is access to technology. According to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 50 percent of teachers of high-income students say that their students have access to the digital tools they need at home, while only 3 percent of the teachers of the nation’s poorest students say the same. This is especially alarming, as 70 percent of teachers say their students rely on the Internet to complete their assignments.
Such a wide disparity will inevitably enlarge the opportunity gap: As technology becomes more pertinent in our daily lives, those without access will surely fall behind. Many companies have already figured this out: Texas Instruments, HP, Microsoft and Apple, among others, are working to bring technology into the classroom. You can do the same: Connect your company to Computers for Youth or one of the many other organizations that foster education through technology. Or, connect with local urban elementary and middle schools to understand how you can help with their technology needs.
2. Go to the source: Inspire youth.
Growing up in St. Louis, I never expected I’d become CEO of a multi-million dollar company. Such a dream seemed entirely too far out of my reach — yet, here I am. Reflecting on my path to success, I know I would not be where I am today without the help of others. Whether it was my mother, the Junior Achievement organization in St. Louis, the military or higher education, I had experiences, relationships and opportunities that empowered me to be who I became. Today’s urban youth need similar empowerment to succeed in the workforce and you can give it to them.
Reach out to high schools in your area to schedule a talk; volunteer your company with mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America; hold a day where kids can come to your office and see what it’s like. But most importantly, share your story with them. Let them know that success is possible for them, no matter what their circumstances.
3. Give them the opportunity.
According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition for the 2013-2014 school year was $30,094 at private colleges, $8,893 for state residents at public colleges and $22,203 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Even with financial aid, many students still require additional funding to attend higher education programs. And while taking out student loans is fairly simple, many college graduates are finding it harder and harder to pay off their student debt. By starting a companywide scholarship fund, have your company match employee donations and help kids in your community achieve their dreams.
4. Get your community involved.
Recently, the popular blog Humans of New York made news for raising over $1 million through crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com to send kids from Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on a class trip to Harvard University. Such a trip can help inspire urban youth to set their sights higher than their immediate environment. And there is another lesson to be learned from HONY’s successful campaign: Many hands make light work. By starting initiatives to support urban youth at your company, you can get the community involved to go further. Start a blog about the initiative; use social media like Vine, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to gain grassroots support; and reach out to local papers to post articles online or in print.
5. Support the supporters.
Teachers are often youths’ most unrecognized advocates. They may feel like they’re fighting against the tide, but the work they do is invaluable. Give teachers the support they need by volunteering in a class, raising money to fund after-school programs and summer camps and writing profiles on teachers who are making a difference in your area. Treat teachers with the respect they deserve, and the kids will follow your example.