Running the Race
A majority of people reading this article have probably run in a race before. Even if you haven’t, picture yourself at the starting line of a race. You are next to the other runners, shoulder to shoulder, anxious and excited for the race to come.
Now picture this same race, only moments before the shotgun start, a race official comes over to you and informs you that you will be starting the race 1 mile behind the rest of the runners.
You will likely find yourself thinking, “It’s not fair. It’s not right. How on earth am I supposed to catch up?”
Youth in the United States
There are 74.2 million people under 18 in the United States. That is a lot of people in the race. Yet, nearly 40% of children live in low-income families at or below the poverty level (source: ASPE). This large group of youth are starting their race of life already behind the other runners. For at-risk youth, many of the advantages enjoyed by other children are not present.
There are many organizations out there working to provide support and hope for at-risk youth. One great organization that we learned about early on was BUILD Chicago. BUILD has a mission to serve youth during, after, and out-of-school time, weekends, and school vacations – the times when they are most at risk.
Gang Recruitment in Youth
The data tells us that children from low-income families are more likely to join a gang. Children, youth, and young adults at risk for gang recruitment range from 7 to 35 years of age, but typically are in their teens or early twenties. These youth come from areas that are economically deprived, low income, comprised of high populations of ethnic and racial minorities and working-class urban and suburban environments (source: BUILD Chicago).
At-risk youth are also more likely to fight, steal, or drop out of school. (source: ASPE). Dropping out of high school makes finding a job harder, which means no income to get out on your own. High-school dropouts are also 8x as likely to commit a crime. Children living at or below the poverty line also find themselves with less options for healthy food choices, contributing to long-term health issues.
Positive Outcomes to Youth Empowerment
We say all this to emphasize the point that serving at-risk youth is a major area of opportunity. The positive outcomes to youth empowerment programs are improved social skills, improved behavior, increased academic achievement, increased self-esteem, and increased self-efficacy (source: youth.gov). These kids are our future. It is our duty to care for them today because they shape our tomorrow.