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Op/ed: Investing in all of our children

By   /   Friday, May 16th, 2014  /   Comments Off

We at the Ventura County Community Foundation have renewed our focus on helping the region’s youth get out of adolescence not only safely but with more skills and opportunities for a productive life. We think this is a smart investment in the future of Ventura County.

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By Hugh Ralston

It might surprise you to know how many high-school graduates are not on the college track, in part because they have not completed the subject requirement for admittance to the California State University and University of California systems.

The truth is that the vast majority of our Ventura County youth will move directly into the workforce from high school.

With this compelling statistic in mind, we at the Ventura County Community Foundation have renewed our focus on helping the region’s youth get out of adolescence not only safely but with more skills and opportunities for a productive life. We think this is a smart investment in the future of Ventura County.

While we are proud of our $1 million-plus annual investment in college scholarships and workforce training, we believe part of the responsibility of being a community foundation is to invest in the future of all our children. Their success will lead to ours.

Given the challenges many young people now face, we must think more creatively about how we can work with donors to develop new models that make a real difference in expanding opportunity for everybody, college-bound or not. These models likely will take longer, require partnership and collaboration and need to be tailored and focused to be most effective in helping young people who pursue vocations that don’t require a college degree.

Over the past several months, VCCF and a small group of interested donors and partners have invited local nonprofit and public sector officials who serve struggling youth to share their successes and frustrations. It has been humbling to see how many people take seriously the commitment to help others on a daily basis.

For too many children, educational roadblocks don’t start in the classroom. They begin on the streets of their neighborhoods and in their homes. Their circumstances, choices and family experience can condemn them to a life of incarceration, violence, poor health, and a lack of skills to perform work that provides a living wage.

The complexities can be daunting.

Many underperforming students suffer from mental-health and behavioral problems that frustrate parents and families, and are often addressed through medication.

Many never connect with mentors due to mistrust brought on by a history of abuse at the hands of adults, and many lack positive role models or adults outside their families. Many of these students fail to realize their potential because they’ve for years been unfairly labeled as substandard or academic failures. This only further erodes their self-esteem.

Many of these students are forced to rely on public institutions as the last refuge because their families are overwhelmed or their parents are incarcerated, suffer from substance abuse or are otherwise absent.

Though fraught with challenge, we believe our hope that these cycles can be broken is far from misplaced.

Changing outcomes for our kids is a big job, and we don’t see a single solution on the horizon. But the results will be worth it. We at VCCF believe that by working together, we can accomplish more than any one person or organization can achieve alone.

It won’t happen overnight. We must find the right framework and work with accurate and measurable data.

We have to leverage and extend the tremendous work already done by local nonprofit and public agencies to address the above issues.

We must enter partnerships that make sense to identify possible social business, creative skills or entrepreneurial talent that could transform someone’s future.  We must find ways to connect the young people in our communities with options and opportunity to ignite skills and passions and to provide the tools, mentors and structure to help many build — out of the turbulence of adolescence — lives of value and substance.

There is no time to waste, as each year brings more children to the edge of adulthood, ill-prepared to succeed. It is time to move forward, engaging donors and other partners in developing solutions and alternatives that can transform the journeys of these noncollege youth transitioning to a more productive future — for all of us.

We invite you to join us in this opportunity to change the course of lives and work with those who have a stake in their success.

• Hugh Ralston is the president and CEO of the Camarillo-based Ventura County Community Foundation. He will step down from the position on Sept. 30, after 11 years at the helm. The group’s board is searching for his successor.

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