Going All in For All Youth

Just over a year ago, President Obama appointed us to serve on the White House Council for Community Solutions alongside 23 other business and community leaders who share a commitment and background in supporting our nation's youth. Our task: learn about, understand, and recommend community-based solutions to help all young Americans gain access to meaningful employment and relevant education.

This past summer, the two of us -- a musician and a PR executive -- set out on a listening tour, visiting with young people from Atlanta and New Orleans to Houston and back to our home state of New Jersey. We met with extraordinary young people, whose dedication to overcoming their circumstances was matched only by the passion and caring of the organizations who helped them along the way, offering, as a young woman in Newark told us, "comfort and community" and genuine belonging. We realized that our nation's greatest untapped natural resource is our next generation. These young men and women represent homegrown talent, ready, willing, and able to be a part of the future; they simply need the outlook, the outlet and the opportunity.

And, importantly, they need opportunities for employment. Although the latest jobs report shows progress made in creating jobs and helping more Americans get back to work, only 45 percent of youth between the ages of 16-24 were employed at the end of August according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Clearly, we need to change that. President Obama took an important step by asking business leaders and communities to join his administration in providing hundreds of thousands of jobs for the youth of America. The White House's Summer Jobs Plus initiative is a call-to-action for businesses, non-profits, and government to collaborate towards creating employment opportunities for low-income and disconnected youth this coming summer. Summer jobs provide young people a critical on-ramp to the road towards responsibility, community, work ethic, stability and economic self-sufficiency. When combined with support systems and mentorship, summer jobs can change lives.

But we don't have to wait for summer to begin before we take can action. There are things each of us can do every day -- right now -- to help. Local businesses can provide paid or unpaid internships reserved specifically for disconnected youth in the community. Educators can work closely with community organizations in identifying students at-risk of disconnecting from education and employment while connecting them with preventive support. Community members can spend one or two hours a week mentoring.

We know this approach can work because we witnessed it during our listening tour happening across hundreds of effective organizations around the nation. One young man in Atlanta told us he was raised by his single mother in a poor neighborhood, without a father to "teach me how to be a man." He'd been on the honor roll but when the financial bottom dropped out from beneath his family, he dropped out of school to make extra money. Unable to get a job, he turned to crime, landed in juvenile detention, and once he served his time, he found himself right back out on the streets. Another young man in Houston shared with us that he just wanted to be normal, "like your children." A young woman we met in Atlanta told us everyone had given up on her, except for her teacher.

These young people had been given a second chance. They were helped by local organizations which provided comprehensive services like skills training, relevant education, and wellness programs. It's made all the difference, putting them back on the pathway towards employment and a lifelong identity as a responsible, productive member of the community.

Yet, not everyone facing similar hurdles is aware these services exist or how they can enroll. One of the opportunities the Council has identified and will recommend to President Obama is how communities can maximize current social media strategies and formats to better communicate and dialogue directly with the youth most in need, promoting awareness and access to the resources to empower themselves.

The mission of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation is to change our community one soul at a time. It's an objective we can all follow. It's not just about what one business or one person can do -- it's about all of us, working together across the artificial lines that separate government from business and from community-based organizations and individual citizens, to find ways to do more with less.

And we can't wait. As President Obama said, "this is an all-hands-on-deck moment." The stakes are high, but if we go all in, this is one bet on America's future, our youth, we can't afford to lose.

Jon Bon Jovi, is a Grammy-winning musician and chair of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. Michael W. Kempner is founder, president and CEO of MWW Group, a leading public relations firm. This post was written on behalf of the White House Council for Community Solutions.