Archives For August 2013

Making the dream a reality

As we mark 50 years since Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, a defining question for the nation is how much racial progress has been made in the past half century.

Let’s at the same time also remember King’s pluralistic message. His enduring legacy is that he not only championed equality for Black Americans but opportunity for all Americans.

This raises a different question: What can you do to achieve opportunity for all?

In the spirit of JFK’s famous line from his inaugural address two and a half years before King’s March on Washington speech — “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” – achieving greater opportunity for all hinges on each of us.

Whether or not the government acts on this issue during the remainder of Obama’s term, you and I can — by investing in nonprofits that successfully work every day to make change. These charities transform lives by offering kids an enriched early childhood education, mentoring at-risk youth, making college more accessible, teaching job skills, and moving the chronically homeless into permanent housing.

You can learn about specific nonprofits and their successes by looking at other posts on this blog.

Its underlying message is simple yet powerful: Your generosity can help make Martin Luther King’s dream a reality!

Engaging youth through service

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Ellen Ardouny — President & CEO, The Corps Network
(reprinted in The Huffington Post)

August marks the peak of summer when millions of youth should be working or getting ready to go back to school.  It’s also the month when the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics issues its yearly “Employment and Unemployment Among Youth” report. This year’s report pegs unemployment of youth at 16.3%, little changed from the year before. The rate for African Americans and Hispanics is even worse at 28% and 18% respectively.

As the more publicized unemployment rate for adults progresses downward to 7%, it’s important to remember that millions of our youth continue to struggle with unemployment and disengagement from school. A recent report from the Center for American Progress found there are over 10 million young Americans, between 16 and 24, who are either out of work or underemployed, with an additional 5.5 million both out-of-work and out-of-school.

As a result, we risk an entire generation missing out on important first-work experiences and education credentials, both key to future individual and familial success as well as the nation’s global competitiveness. The Corps Network’s 127 Youth Service and Conservation Corps are focused on re-engaging these “Opportunity Youth,” in education and/or the workforce with a unique strategy that provides academic and job training through a venue of community service.  Last year alone, Corps helped 27,000 youth from communities across the country, and we stand ready and able to engage thousands more.

Corps are crew-based youth development programs that provide “Corpsmembers” with job training, secondary and post-secondary education programming, leadership skills, mentorship, and additional support services through a strategy of service projects that improve communities and the environment. Service is a proven strategy for reconnecting youth with the education, the workforce, and the communities in which they live. Recently the Corporation for National and Community Service found volunteers have a 27% higher chance of finding a job after being unemployed than non-volunteers, which an even greater impact (51%) for those without high school diplomas.

While there hasn’t been a major focus on our economic and/or workforce development, especially as they pertain to youth and young adults, in Congress as of late, there are some Members who are fighting to bring attention to these key issues. The Corps Network has been working with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) to develop and introduce the Youth Corps Act, H.R. 3061, which will enable states, local communities, colleges, existing Corps, and non-profits to replicate and expand this successful model for reconnecting unemployed youth to education, the workforce, and their communities. Rep. Wilson has also been pushing forward a broader economic development agenda with the introduction of the American Jobs Act, H.R. 2821.

The Corps Network also applauds Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, for his work on these issues with the introduction of the Pathways Back to Work Act, H.R. 2721. This legislation would boost employment and education assistance for adults and low-income youth. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is also focusing on this issue with his amendment to the immigration reform bill that recently passed the Senate, and is awaiting action in the House.

In order to reconnect youth with the outdoors, we’ve also been working with federal partners to develop a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) modeled on the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) called for “the establishment of a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration.”

The Corps Network has been partnering with the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to plan and implement a 21CSC with the goal of engaging 100,000 youth, including Opportunity Youth and veterans in protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s great outdoors.

As you can see, there are many efforts underway to address these issues, reflective of the needs of the over 5.5 million youth out of work and school. While there are many challenges ahead, we are heartened by the many passionate advocates for youth we work with everyday to provide wider opportunities for youth engagement.

We hope you will spread the word about these needs and efforts, and take the opportunity to help where possible by supporting a Corps and telling your local and federal elected officials to remember our youth in this difficult economy.

Making housing affordable

Summer is a good time for catching up on TV programs accumulating on the DVR.

“60 Minutes” segment I watched recently chronicled the sights and sounds of bulldozers at work in Cleveland.  Houses were being razed in neighborhoods that just a few years earlier had been vibrant and thriving.  This effort was purportedly aimed at “bettering” these neighborhoods, which had become blighted due to the large number of foreclosed and subsequently abandoned homes.

Is this really a sign of progress in mitigating our nation’s housing crisis?

Other efforts also taking place in Cleveland offer considerably more reason for optimism.  Consider the work being done by the Famicos Foundation, which provides access to affordable housing and works to enhance neighborhood quality without using bulldozers.  The organization both facilitates real estate development and delivers services to improve youth education and literacy.  Famicos owns and manages over 800 units of housing for families, seniors, the disabled, and formerly homeless individuals.

If 60 Minutes wants to get the full scoop about housing initiatives being undertaken in Cleveland, it should point its cameras at the work Famicos is doing.  Learn how you can help this important cause.

Achieving the dream

Some people have known their whole life they will go to college.  For others, several factors stack the deck against the likelihood that college will ever be in their future.  Given that a bachelors degree — even in this tough economy and with escalating tuition costs — still opens up lots of doors, it’s just plain unfair that college is not equally accessible to all.

College Access Now is changing that.  This Seattle nonprofit works with economically disadvantaged youth to enable them to pursue the dream of higher education.  Students are assisted with test preparation, navigating the application process, visiting campuses, securing funding, and staying committed to doing their schoolwork.  An underlying aim of this mentoring is to help students see themselves as worthy and capable of succeeding in college.

And sure enough, graduates of the program have gone on to attend colleges and universities across the U.S!

Want powerful evidence of this organization’s successes?  See for yourself.

There are many ways to give that will enable College Access Now to assist more students who might otherwise never get the chance to become the first in their families to go to college.

  • Make a monetary gift: $60 buys test preparation materials; $300 funds two vans for a campus visit; $1800 sponsors a student for a year. Also consider making an in-kind donation of USB storage cards or digital recording devices. Learn more.
  • Volunteer to become a college coach or to help out in a number of other ways.

With your help, more young people can make the dream of college a reality!

Give Hope to Inspire Transformation

GUEST BLOGGER: Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild USA Founder & CEO


When a group of East Harlem youth wanted to “take empty buildings back from the drug dealers, rebuild the houses, and eliminate crime,” we founded the first YouthBuild program 35 years ago to provide opportunities for young people who had dropped out of high school to earn their GEDs or high school diplomas, while learning job skills rebuilding affordable housing and leadership development skills to become the future leaders of their communities.

Since then, YouthBuild programs have empowered 120,000 young people from low-income communities across the United States to rebuild their communities and their lives. YouthBuild USA and the network of local YouthBuild programs have accomplished this growth through dynamic public-private partnerships that leverage foundation and corporate grants, as well as individual donations, with federal, state, and local government funding.

Ira Silver’s new book Giving Hope: How You Can Restore the American Dream calls on donors to give the gift that keeps on giving to 75 nonprofits not well-known by the public, including YouthBuild USA. These nonprofits diminish poverty by providing opportunities for those who without these gifts might be without hope forever.

I am particularly pleased that Ira featured the story of a YouthBuild graduate, Joel, who recently became Director of Graduate Leadership Development at YouthBuild USA. He is now inspiring thousands of low-income young people youth to transform their own lives and rebuild their communities.

If you are inspired by Giving Hope and believe in contributing to an organization that is engaging young people to lift themselves out of poverty while becoming tomorrow’s leaders, please donate to YouthBuild USA today or make a donation to one of the other featured nonprofit organizations to help restore the American dream.

How you can restore the american dream

Published August 2013
We hear a lot these days about the growing rich-poor gap and how it is undermining the American dream. A telling indicator is that hard work is no longer the sure-bet ticket to getting ahead it once was. Millions who struggle to make ends meet have little realistic chance of achieving a better life. And for the rest of us, it’s all too easy to believe there’s little we can do to mitigate this hardship. We often sigh at the magnitude of inequality, seeing personal stories of misfortune as tiny drops within a huge ocean of need.

The new book Giving Hope is an antidote to this pessimism. It outlines ways that charity can offer second chances to Americans who have dim prospects for moving their lives forward without outside help. Its powerful stories of personal transformation illustrate how giving can dramatically improve the lives of those experiencing hard times, enabling them to embark on a path toward success.

This timely book offers tips about where to donate so that you can give gifts that keep on giving. It identifies 75 nonprofits from coast to coast that efficiently use their donations and have track records of creating access to housing, employment, and educational opportunities. Each of us has the power to help people in need achieve successes that would be unimaginable were it not for the unsung work of so many nonprofits across the U.S.