National Council of Young Leaders shares their Recommendations on Capitol Hill
Submitted by Hannah Traverse on Mon, 10/06/2014 - 12:27
Washington, D.C. -- On Friday, October 3, 2014, the National Council of Young Leaders held a Congressional Briefing to share their Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. The Council, comprised of 16 diverse opportunity youth from across the country, developed these six Recommendations in response to some of the most pervasive problems faced by low-income young Americans.
All of the 16 councilmembers contributed their different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to creating the Recommendations. Some of them spoke about their experiences and personal connections to specific Recommendations during the briefing.
Recommendation 1 – Expand effective comprehensive programs.
Philan Tree (affiliated with The Corps Network - Flagstaff, AZ) spoke of how comprehensive programs, like Service and Conservation Corps or YouthBuild, provide the wraparound support many opportunity youth need in order to advance their careers and educational goals. Childcare and family responsibilities, transportation issues, the need to work and make money – these are all common barriers faced by low-income young people trying to access the educational or career opportunities that could help them get ahead. Comprehensive programs address these problems, making sure youth don’t have to sacrifice in order to go to school or learn new job skills.
Deon Jones (affiliated with Be The Change - Washington, DC) spoke of how people in poor communities often feel like their situation is a problem that someone else can fix. They don’t feel like they have the power to be part of the solution. Deon talked about how expanding national service to engage more low-income individuals in programs like AmeriCorps or YouthBuild is a way to give people the empowerment to make a difference. When a generation of young people realize that, instead of being served, they can be the “architects” of making healthier, stronger, safer communities, there will be an overflow of prosperity into the generations to come.
Recommendation 3 – Expand private internships.
Adam Strong (affiliated with YouthBuild USA - Hazard, KY) talked about how many American employers are looking for workers, but our young people don’t have the skills required to fill available positions. Expanding internships is an excellent way to address this issue because interning gives a young person exposure to the work world, hands-on experience, and the chance to develop hard and soft skills. Young people also find mentors through their internships, and build a network of professionals to help them find a job in the future. Comprehensive programs like Year Up provide intensive job skills training and access to corporate internships that give young people a solid footing in the work world.
Recommendation 4 – Increase all forms of mentoring.
Ramean Clowney (affiliated with Jobs for the Future - Philadelphia, PA) spoke about how mentors made, and continue to make, a huge difference in his life. Many opportunity youth who reconnect with education or work have a mentor to thank for encouraging them along the way. Anybody can be a mentor, regardless of his or age, and can help someone simply by answering questions, being a good listener, and showing that they believe in their mentee’s potential. Ramean talked about the benefit of having multiple mentors, including people who share your background and can relate to your issues, as well as people who can expose you to new opportunities and communities.
Recommendation 5 – Protect and expand pathways to higher education.
Shawnice Jackson (affiliated with Public Allies - Baltimore, MD) talked about her own experience navigating the confusing world of college applications and financial aid without guidance or support from people who understood the processes. Shawnice spoke of how students need to be protected from predatory loans and should be equipped with the financial literacy to make good decisions about how to fund their education. She talked about the need for more affordable college options, as well as the need to help students realize their eligibility for certain resources and access financial aid.
Recommendation 6 – Reform the criminal justice system.
Lashon Amado (affiliated with YouthBuild USA - Brockton, MA) talked about how America is quick to lock people up, but we forget that over 90 percent of prisoners are eventually reintroduced into society. Our system is flawed in that approximately 2/3 of former inmates recommit and once again find themselves behind bars. Lashon spoke of his own experience of “having society turn its back” on him once he had a record. We need to make sure that those who once committed a crime are not shutout from the community and forced back into the illegal activities that landed them in trouble in the first place.
Ladine “JR” Daniels (affiliated with The Corps Network - Charleston, SC) also spoke from experience about how difficult it can be to reenter society after a period of incarceration. He talked about the need to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in order to protect young offenders. Ladine talked about how, like Lashon, finding a job was nearly impossible with his record, but, through national service, he was able to get back in the work world and develop a set of skills and credentials to build a career. Second chances for offenders are few and far between, meaning that those who find these opportunities will go into them with all the enthusiasm they can generate. People who might have made mistakes in the past have the potential to do great things and succeed if only given the chance.