Faith-Based Initiatives Key to Reaching Disconnected Youth

Faith-based initiatives are integral in the effort to reach disconnected youth, says a White House Council member.

For the next 100 days, the While House Council for Community Solutions is leading an initiative calling for people to go "All In" for youth. The effort is meant to spur new commitments to support young adults out of jobs and school.

John Bridgeland, a member of the council and CEO of Civic Enterprises, told The Christian Post that "faith-based initiatives are the backbone in many cases of our efforts to reengage young people."

According to him, Catholic Charities serves one in four poor Americans, including many young people. He also cited programs like the faith-based Amachi Training Institute in Philadelphia, which "provide[s] mentors to 2 million children whose parents are in prison."

If young people don't reconnect in society, Bridgeland said, they have a high likelihood of ending up in the criminal justice system as well; so breaking that cycle is imperative.

The100-day launch is in response to President Barack Obama's challenge to the nation to help every young adult find a pathway to long-term economic success.

Bridgeland said this initiative is important because it's educating people about the existence of the disconnected youth population.

There is an estimated 6.7 million 16- to 24-year-old young adults who are disconnected from school and work, he noted. Forty percent are high school drop-outs and the remainder are those who entered college but didn't finish and are not working.

According to a report from Columbia University and CUNY/Queens College, titled "The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth," at least one in six young adults is disconnected from education and work.

Projections from the report show that over the lifetime of these young people, taxpayers will assume a $1.6 trillion burden to meet the increased needs and lost revenue from this group. In 2011 alone, taxpayers shouldered more than $93 billion to compensate for lost taxes and direct costs to support the young people disconnected from jobs and school.

Some of the causes for this disconnect stem from the "breakdown of the family [and] breakdown in communities," Bridgeland said.

Many young people's failure to work or go to school ends up causing them to use the welfare system, or drives up the cost of health care. Many in this youth population also end up going to prison, contributing to the high cost of incarceration in the United States.

"If we don't act, the 6.7 million young adults who are out of school and work are set up to fail. Without an opportunity to learn critical skills and earn an income, these youth are less likely to become the kind of healthy, productive citizens that are crucial to the long-term strength and competiveness of our nation," said Patty Stonesifer, chair of the White House Council of Community Solutions, in a released statement.

Bridgeland told CP that during this 100-day period over 20 communities across the states will be helping to mobilize a response. "Already we have 175,000 job commitments from employers," he said.

To give communities, businesses, and nonprofits a practical way to address the problem, the council has created online toolkits.

The Community Collaboratives Toolbox provides case studies of community-wide efforts in cities like Atlanta, Boston, Nashville, Milwaukee, and San Jose, and how they are tackling complex issues, from violence to low graduation rates. It's meant to provide ideas to other communities in their efforts to address the disconnected youth problem.

The Connecting Youth & Business Toolkit offers employers a guide for reaching out to disconnected youth with opportunities. This includes mentoring, teaching them practical skills like how to write a resume, and "learn & earn programs" that provide internships and permanent positions.

Some critics say less government initiatives, not more, are the solution and that many young people have found ways to cheat the system through welfare or their family.

But Bridgeland told CP that 77 percent of the youth they surveyed accepted personal responsibility for their own lives, and over half were looking for full-time work.

The goal of the initiative, according to Bridgeland, is to educate the public on the disconnected youth problem. "We've never had this powerful a picture of their numbers," he said. As high as one-third of the youth population is out of school and work, and before now there was not a comprehensive economic analysis of the effects of this issue.

The initiative will culminate with a White House Summit for Youth, during which the council will submit its final report to the White House.

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