The Community Foundation’s Taste of Philanthropy Series Debuts with the Right Questions

By Mozella Perry Ademiluyi, Montgomery County Advisory Board Member

  • Why are a growing number of students in Montgomery County and the Metropolitan area falling into the “disconnected youth” category?
  • Why do our youth feel disrespected? And, what does it look like to feel valued?

And, so began the first in a series of “Taste of Philanthropy” community dinner conversations. The dinner was attended by three Latino youth representing their peers and a diverse community of people who cared enough to really hear what the young people had to say about their world. They shared what it looks like and what it feels like to be a young person navigating the Montgomery County school system and how they were saved from falling through the cracks. In essence, they told us what worked, what didn’t and what is needed from their own points of view.

Taste of Philanthropy represents a different kind of invitation. We didn’t spend time introducing ‘who’ was in the room. Instead, we questioned, we listened … and the real experts, our ‘affected’ youth answered.

They reported that young people who are defined as being ‘disconnected’ are concerned and worried by many things: their families’ finances, lack of direction, immigration status, no affordable daycare, teachers who have no expectations of them and no one who seems to care enough. A clear illustration that behind every statistic there are youth with real stories and a desire for a better life.

Who points the way – how does the community respond?

The Community Foundation and Identity issued a study in June 2014 entitled Connecting Youth to Opportunity: How Latino Youth Perspectives can Inform a Blueprint for Improving Opportunity In Montgomery County, Maryland. The report’s findings provide detailed insights into the lives of a thousand Latino youth living in Montgomery County. It demonstrates the encouraging belief that there is no point of no return in which a youth is completely lost and that one person can actually make a difference in the trajectory of a youth’s life that may have veered off course. While the report focuses on Latino youth, we believe the findings raise similar issues for youth of all ethnicities.

Our community cares. However, many don’t know what to do about the negative issues impacting the well-being of thousands upon thousands of youth in our area.

Perhaps we can focus instead on the difference we can make –use our higher sense of purpose to inspire our youth to explore new possibilities, imagine change and recreate their stories. And, we can support the efforts of change makers like The Community Foundation.

Below are some highlights of what the panel of youth shared about their experiences and how the community can take action to address these issues:

  • They think a forum with principals and school staff to share their experiences and struggles without fear of judgment is needed.
    • Create an advocacy group in your local school district and host such a forum.
  • They believe that not all youth are suited for college and want alternatives that are achievable and goals they can feel good about.
    • Support programs that offer career pathways for all children.
  • They believe more one-on-one mentorships and coaching will help them feel cared for and give them the push they need. Such relationships changed their lives and they believe students who are willing to change or can be encouraged to change will benefit from that kind of support too.
    • Become a mentor.

What do you believe? Some of us can help with awareness and advocacy, some can be an authentic voice raising the call to action, still others can help push the needle forward so that proactive policy leads to action that leads to real change. Ultimately, each one can endeavor to reach one.

If you believe ‘the answers are in the detail’ then you’ve come to the right place.

There is no question in my mind that we are capable of teaching our youth how to make better choices and how to create a different, more empowering reality for their lives.