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United Way Blog

Helping Our Next Generation Succeed

My first job growing up was washing dishes at the J&L Lounge in Hobart, Indiana. 

I didn’t earn much, just $1 per hour.  This was the mid-1970s after all.  But I did learn some important life lessons, like the value of a buck and hard work.

Tips for getting into college weren’t on the menu, however.  Born into an unstable household with two parents that hadn’t been to college, I had little idea what it would take to go to university, much less how to choose one. 

So as high school graduation approached, it was mentors, coaches and parents of friends who showed me the way forward. 

After I graduated from Ball State University and joined United Way, I became determined to help more young people like myself.  I recognized how critical community had been to helping me achieve, and I wanted more kids to receive the same opportunities.

That’s why I’m proud that United Way works hard to provide greater opportunity for young people around the world. 

One of our programs that offers youth support and helps them find their way is Character Playbook.  Character Playbook, a partnership with the NFL, is tackling the uptick in bullying by helping students keep healthy social relationships during their critical middle school years.  It’s an interactive course that teaches students by challenging them to better understand their own values and relationships so they can make friends and develop mentors who will support good decisions. 

To date, more than 56,000 students have completed nearly 208,000 Character Playbook modules. 

Healthy relationships are key, and so is graduating from high school.  Studies show that graduating from high school is a critical determinant for future success.  Since 2008 in the United States, United Way has made high school graduation a priority.  By working with all community members – parents, teachers, counselors, even recent graduates – we’re seeing great results in places like Detroit, where the United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s High School Turnaround Initiative has helped increase graduation rates more than 20 percent at one school. 

For young people to get ahead, it’s also important for them to get the skills they need for good jobs.  In San Francisco, the United Way of the Bay Area is partnering with the Mayor’s Office and the City of San Francisco to help disconnected youth from ages 16 to 24 develop new, in-demand skills.  We then help them find positions.  Since 2012, the program has connected more than 34,000 young people to jobs, providing opportunity to grow both personally and financially.

To me, it’s about giving people a chance.  Young people don’t want things handed to them.  They want to earn them.  But you can’t earn what you don’t have the possibility to achieve. 

Whether it’s learning how to build healthy relationships, or taking advice on how to succeed in school or on the job, a supportive community is critical to helping you get where you want to go.

That’s what I learned growing up, and it’s why United Way today works so hard to provide greater opportunity for thousands of young people in communities around the world.