Illuminating Pathways To Opportunity Through A Service Year

While it may not be visible to all, an estimated 5.5 million 16-24 year olds in the United States are neither in school nor working. Nearly half of these five and half million are African American or Hispanic youth. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is more than double the rate for the country overall.

This is not new information, but on the heels of the most divisive Presidential elections to date, coupled with the current racial landscape in our country, the urgency to find a way for those who are disconnected to know that they matter and that we as a society are dedicated to ensuring their success has never been greater.

Oftentimes finding a pathway to education and a career is not easy, particularly in communities of color, where a lack of opportunity has a tendency to disproportionately affect a young person's likelihood for success. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that people of all backgrounds are aware of the various opportunities to find these paths to success. Once we open the door, we must do our part to expand these opportunities for all.

Paving these paths to success has become my life's mission. At my organization BridgeEdu we are working to make it easier for young people to make it to -- and through -- college. By partnering with local colleges and universities, we provide our students with greater supports, including a suite of wrap-around services and an experiential co-curriculum. This program and the work that we do was specifically created to address the college completion crisis and ensure that more students have the tools and know-how to succeed.

This passion is also what inspired me to join a diverse group of individuals from government, technology, higher education, entertainment, and philanthropy to chair the launch of Service Year Alliance this week. Service Year Alliance is working to make a year of paid, full-time service -- a service year -- a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans. But without our help, the vision that we brought to life this week -- a service year for all -- will go unnoticed.

A service year offers a paid opportunity to develop real-world skills through hands-on service. This transformational experience is an appealing alternative for young people who may be forced off a path to college or a career. A service year opens the door for young people to play an active role in rebuilding their communities and their lives simultaneously. By building the skills, education, and employability while helping lead an effort to improve their own neighborhood, service years have the power to create pathways to economic opportunity by helping young Americans find their passions and forever shape their lives.

Service Year Alliance has made it their mission to connect the next generation of young people to service year programs who are in search of diverse talent to help power their organizations and make a lasting impact in local communities across the country and around the world.

Programs like YouthBuild USA, for example, engage disconnected youth in a service year, helping them find a sense of purpose while earning degrees and developing critical skills. Studies have shown that young people who participate in programs like YouthBuild develop a connection to their communities and an elevated purpose and self-worth. By connecting these opportunity youth -- who are in search of a sense of purpose -- to service year programs like YouthBuild, we are in turn empowering them to become leaders in their own communities and are opening doors that would otherwise be closed.

I am confident that if we come together and use our collective voice, we can showcase the vision of Service Year Alliance and elevate the choice to engage in a year of to a national scale. We can create an opportunity for all to help heal our country and provide increased paths to success for those who need it most. But, this opportunity must to be illuminated if young people of all backgrounds have any hope of finding it, and we all have a role to play in lighting the way.

Wes Moore is the Founder & CEO of BridgeEdu and serves as a Launch Chair for Service Year Alliance.