Too many children face increasing challenges in today's world, due to the pandemic, economic insecurity, climate change disasters, armed violence, and the risk of exploitation. For those who come from communities that have been systematically marginalized, and the thousands of children who have recently arrived as refugees, these adversities may seem insurmountable.
But children are resilient, and every child has a well of untapped potential. This holiday season, we need to commit to doing more for them instead of donating toys. We must pledge to give all children the same thing we give our own: love, encouragement, and opportunities.
The challenges children face are great. More than 100,000 children in New York do not live at home. One in five children in New York does not have enough food to eat. Migrant children are exploited in high-risk jobs.
The system hinders opportunities for a sound education and career. New York City schools remain the most segregated in the country. Nearly one in five students do not graduate on time, and nearly 40% of those who go to college drop out after less than six months. Worse still, it is estimated that up to a quarter of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working.
At first glance, these problems seem unsolvable, but in reality each of us has the ability to support young people in overcoming these challenges and creating a bright future for themselves. The government can also do more to help young people who face enormous barriers erected by those who enjoy privilege and maintained by those who are indifferent.
We can all start by mentoring and supporting young people. Knowing that someone loves you unconditionally, supports you unwaveringly, and cares about you implicitly is the greatest gift we can give a child. I also believe it is the most important indicator of childhood stability and adult success. All children need it. Many don't have it.
Evidence suggests that youth with mentors “are likely to have more positive attitudes toward school, have higher expectations for academic success, perform better in school, and be more socially successful.” And get a higher income.”
Take Lloyd, who just earned his master's degree from Cornell University and is starting his dream job in the wine industry in Napa, California. As Lloyd describes it, as a young child he experienced “trouble and instability.” A court order assigns him to the Children's Village residential treatment program.
He describes feeling “exhausted and hopeless” and barely going to school for an entire year. But he says that during those dark moments he found a guiding light in his life — Ms. Joy (yes, that's her real name), a teacher who had unwavering faith in him and his future. Mrs. Joy was a constant nurturing presence in Lloyd's life. He says her commitment and belief in his ability to succeed “shaped my future in great ways.”
More of us could take a cue from Ms. Joy. Mentorship opportunities abound at The Children's Village, the nonprofit I have the honor of working for, and at many others in New York City. The city government has recognized the power of long-term direction and has rightfully invested in one of the most successful efforts in the country, Fair Futures.
The city must continue to fund mentoring programs despite all of its current financial hardships because we must build for the future. We must all invest more of our time and money in young people. Temporary gaming gift; The gift of stable relationships and mentoring lasts a lifetime.
Kohomban is the president and CEO of Children's Village.