In its final report, the White House Council for Community Solutions cites a statistic worth noting: 6.7 million young adults (aged 16 to 24) in the United States are both out of school and not working. Addressing large issues such as youth joblessness and access to opportunities requires creative solutions. I believe in the power of partnerships of organizations, groups and people who work together toward a shared goal, as an active way to engage problems. My participation in the ServiceWorks Bootcamp this past fall showed me a successful way to educate and empower youth and young adults.
Imagine this: a day of activities for nearly 100 high school and college-aged youth. Through the ongoing ServiceWorks partnership among Points of Light, Citi and the Corporation for National and Community Service — as well as the city of Los Angeles and several youth-serving organizations — young people participated in a ServiceWorks Bootcamp, a program that uses volunteer-based service learning to engage young adults and youth on topics such as college readiness and career success.
But what does that look like? And what does that mean for an interactive day that starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. for groups of young people, many meeting for the first time? With a decade of experience organizing and running education programming in the nonprofit sector, I am familiar with the level of planning it takes to run seminars similar to the ServiceWorks Bootcamp. As I traveled from Washington, District of Columbia, to Los Angeles, my excitement grew to experience it firsthand.
Volunteers greeted everyone who walked into the assigned building for the opening program, wearing bright blue T-shirts and welcoming smiles. I felt at ease as I entered the building. “Good morning! Do you have a name tag? Come to the table and register and then go to breakfast,” they said. Once I had the agenda in hand, I saw the day was packed. Breakfast and a morning welcome would be followed by activities on a host of issues.
The day exceeded my expectations. I joined sessions in the morning and afternoon: Communicating and Networking, Conflict Resolution, Goal Setting and Project Management. Facilitators put the room at ease with introductory and well-planned programming. In the communication workshop, the inclusion of social media tools — such as Instagram and SnapChat — in teaching important communication techniques reflected an acute awareness of the audience. The Conflict Resolution workshop provided hands-on activities that encouraged students to role play through everyday examples to see potential conflicts and discuss how to resolve them.
I transitioned from participant to speaker. In a short address to the group, I discussed how my work at the U.S. Department of Commerce introduced me to the ServiceWorks program — created by Points of Light Foundation in 2014 to provide young people from low-income backgrounds the chance to build skills through service. I discussed the importance of such programs and investing in youth. I also discussed how ServiceWorks partnered with the Summer Opportunity Project, a White House initiative that worked with U.S. cities to increase summer jobs and encourage young people toward meaningful employment.
Following the conclusion of summer programming, Los Angeles and ServiceWorks collaborated to host this boot camp for Los Angeles youth. The 77 participants, invited by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office on Economic and Workforce Development, represented a diverse group of 16- to 21-year-olds from across the city, most of whom were active in YouthSource centers run by the mayor’s office.
The afternoon sessions on Goal Setting and Project Management galvanized the earlier half of the day. It encouraged participants to capture their thoughts about problems in their communities. It also provided participants the chance to set goals for their communities and themselves. Project managers presented methods to illustrate how a process can be used to address a problem and create steps to achieve a goal.
The information was applicable to daily life, making the activities personal, accessible and relevant. The last session included a service project, a critical part of all ServiceWorks Bootcamps. The young people created artwork that reflected the lessons they learned that day. By the end, there were more than 20 inspirational paintings that would hang in college resource centers across the city.
I left a believer in the power of programs such as Service Works and the impact of partnership. By working together with youth organizations, local state and federal government and business, the day reflected the positive outcome for youth. I believe the day was a success by giving the participants resources and motivation for direction toward shaping their future.
Aaron Jenkins works for the U.S. Department of Commerce and is the Director for the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Commerce, a partner of the Center for the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CAREER EDUCATION, SEE THE YOUTH TODAY OST HUB.