Generation Inspiration: Giving Youth the Opportunities They Seek to Change the World

Co-authored by Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

Today's young people have acquired many reputations. They're underemployed, selfie-stick toting masters of all things internet--among other things. However, more and more we're seeing these young adults, now the largest living generation, recognize their ability to drive social change and make a difference on issues from poverty to education to the environment.

In fact, according to new data, young people are giving more at a younger age than their Baby Boomer and Gen-X counterparts. And we're seeing that this generation of young people is exploring new ways to make a difference. They're not propelled by traditional workplace giving campaigns and volunteer days, but rather are seeking opportunities to use their specific skills and expertise in a more hands-on way as they look to take personal action on issues that they feel passionately about. In other words, this generation is inspired to go beyond occasionally donating their time and money--to fully applying themselves and their talents in ways that will change the world.

The potential of this mindset is huge: with their skills in technological advancement and online stakeholder and donor engagement, this generation has the capacity to overcome some of our greatest global challenges.

There is growing recognition that we need to find ways to harness the drive and commitment of young people, and leverage their unique skills. Helping youth access the experiences that they need to drive community change has increasingly become a cross-sector effort. And AmeriCorps has been part of this effort for more than 20 years. AmeriCorps members serving with Shriver Corps--an initiative founded by Maria Shriver in partnership with A Woman's Nation, CNCS, LIFT and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation--just helped this program mark its first anniversary, recognizing achievements like connecting more than 2,500 low-income people to jobs, housing resources, and educational opportunities. AmeriCorps VISTA members are also being deployed through the Financial Opportunity Corps, a partnership between CNCS, Points of Light and Bank of America, which seeks to deliver financial coaching in low-income communities across the country.

Initiatives like these provide a platform through which young people can fine-tune their skills, refine their interests and identify new ways to advance change throughout their careers--no matter where they land. For example, Nelson Araujo is an alumnus of the Bank of America Student Leaders program, which, over the past 11 years, has recognized more than 2,200 community-minded high school students by providing them with paid summer internships at local nonprofit organizations across the country. Through his internship at his local Boys and Girls Club, Nelson learned more about the impact that education can have on underserved young people. He has since gone on to become a Nevada state assemblyman, and credits his Student Leader experience as a major source of inspiration. In his current position, Nelson advocates for improved educational opportunities for children in the Las Vegas community.

Service-oriented programs like AmeriCorps, Shriver Corps, the Financial Opportunity Corps and Student Leaders provide strong opportunities for young people to utilize and advance their skills in networking, social media and social change, while also putting them on a career path toward long-term community impact. Just this month, we met with more than 200 Student Leaders in D.C, where we were left in no doubt of this generation's drive and commitment to create change. Through increased collaboration across sectors, we can provide them with opportunities to harness their talents and enthusiasm, and help communities thrive.

Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and other programs, and leads President Obama's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit GetInvolved.gov.

Kerry Sullivan is President of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. For more than a decade, the bank's Student Leaders Program has connected more than 2,200 community-minded high school juniors and seniors to paid internships at nonprofit organizations around the country, giving them the opportunity to learn about some of the ongoing systematic challenges facing local communities and how to apply their skills to make a difference.