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Opinion

Making Kids’ Choices Easier

Brian Gallagher

This blog is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth. Join the conversation at #Recommit2Kids.

Brian Gallagher at PlaybookNo two kids have the same experience growing up. One might get to choose between a trip to Disney World and a vacation to the Caribbean. Another might have to make a much tougher choice, between dinner and lunch.

When I was growing up, I had difficult decisions to make. I was one of six kids in an unstable household. There was a lot of dysfunction at home. I was raised by mentors, volunteer coaches, and parents of friends. To get a paycheck, I started washing dishes at 13.

When I needed money to pay for college, those same mentors, coaches, and parents provided the connections to get a better-paying job. Looking back, I’ve realized that it was my community that was critical to getting me where I am today.

I try to apply this lesson every day at United Way, where we fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community. That means we fight for all kids, particularly the ones who need an extra hand to reach their potential.

We support a number of programs to help kids lead healthy and productive lives. In education, we offer early-grade reading help, middle school mentoring, and counseling aimed at raising the high school graduation rate. 

I take a particular interest in our mentoring programs because of how important mentors were to me. The United Way of Midland (Texas), for example, supports and guides young men between 15 and 18 years old who are struggling to stay in school. Students build a close relationship with an adult male role model and meet weekly as a group.

I’m proud to say that in 2014-2015, 99 out of 100 of the participating students stayed in school, and every senior graduated.

Brian Gallagher at MXMoving forward, however, each of these students will need the skills and training to get a job that provides for them and their families. Unfortunately, too many young people today are finding their professional and wage options limited. At the same time, 45 percent of U.S. employers say a skills shortage is the largest driver of entry-level vacancies. 

To help correct this problem, United Way is working with the McKinsey Social Initiative to help train and place 1 million young people worldwide in promising careers. Our organization is also setting new goals to connect young people with upwardly mobile jobs. These two steps are among the many ways that United Way is continuing its commitment to kids and students of all ages. 

Twenty years ago, United Way proudly came together with five other founding partners in support of America’s Promise Alliance. Since then, America’s Promise has focused the nation on keeping the Five Promises all children need to thrive – caring adult relationships, healthy childhoods, safe surroundings, effective education, and opportunities to serve others.

It’s a pleasure to sit on the board of America’s Promise Alliance and work with John and the team on our shared goals. Together, we are making those tough choices for kids a little easier.