I think we can all agree that the experiences we had growing up built us into the adults we became. To ensure a positive future for our community, we need to provide young people with positive experiences that encourage, empower and equip them to dream and grow to their full potential, as well as to give back to their communities as adults.
It’s easy for us to assume that kids are getting all the experiences they need from their family and school. Some of us may expect them to be driven with the same personality type as our own – one where they find their own opportunities, regardless of their situation. We must recognize that society has changed dramatically, especially in the past couple of decades.
While young people have access to a world of information, they are spending significantly less time with adults – the positive role models who offer teachable moments, adventures that challenge them to think bigger, and experiences that help them discover and pursue their potential path to success. The internet can never replace the powerful influence of real relationships.
Before we place the blame on the younger generation, thinking they are pushing us away, we need to ask ourselves some questions: Are we intentional in reaching out to them by simply starting a conversation or developing a friendship? Do we step out of our comfort zones with our minds set on understanding their perspectives? How well do we tangibly or practically encourage them in their pursuits?
Many of us believe that young people lack the skills and maturity at age 18 that older generations possessed. Let’s think about that. Where did we learn social and communication skills? At what point in our lives did we learn about the career fields we pursued? Who showed us the value of respecting others and working hard?
Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child recently conducted a study on building resilient young people. Its conclusion was profound: “Children who do well despite serious hardship have had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.”
Research confirms what I’ve witnessed over the past 30 years working in the youth development field. Youth need adults to walk alongside and enable them to experience new worlds, to discover their interests, talents, skills and purpose. While the solution is simple, there are so many young people missing out on this critical need. Every one of us can make a meaningful difference, even if it’s just with one child.
FORGE Youth Mentoring’s Experience Partners program provides an opportunity for businesses and individuals to bridge this generational disconnect and offer youth a chance to get their feet on the ground in places they may have never thought possible.
We can help them overcome myths and fears as they are exposed to all types of hands-on, mind stretching opportunities and activities. Each middle or high school student in our program is accompanied by their mentor who can watch them discover their interests or potential career paths and then provide ongoing support and encouragement to keep learning and growing.
If your business would like to be an experience partner, your commitment is to share your company history and what it accomplishes, needs being met, careers within, how a young person could pursue those careers, as well as any advice or guidance.
Activities or tours can be included. Individual Experience Partners simply share what they love, their expertise, or the hobbies that bring them joy. These 30- to 60-minute opportunities take place two or three times per year.
Creating a healthier and stronger community begins with each of us investing time in the younger generation. Go out today and intentionally connect with a young person and begin a supportive relationship that will empower them to reach their great potential. To learn more and sign-up as a FORGE Experience Partner, go to: forgeyouthmentoring.org/experience-partners.
Todd Kleppin is the co-founder and national director of FORGE Youth Mentoring, headquartered in the Tri-Cities. Teamed with a strong national board and a skilled staff since its start in 2018, FORGE has expanded into more than 20 cities throughout Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Arizona.
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