Let’s Recognize Youth-Serving Professionals as the Essential Workers They Are

Opinion

Let’s Recognize Youth-Serving Professionals as the Essential Workers They Are

America's Promise Alliance

In ordinary times, we work to connect young people with the caring adults outside their homes who are central to their healthy development—educators, coaches, mentors, counselors, afterschool professionals, and case workers. As we cope with physical distancing, this now missing piece in the lives of our young people and communities reveals these caring adults as the truly essential workers they are.

Youth-serving professionals buffer our young people from adversity, help to ignite their interests, connect them to opportunities, and provide emotional support and safety. When these relationships are threatened by the need for physical distance, our children suffer, especially the most vulnerable. We must recognize just how essential these professionals are to the growth and well-being of America’s young people—and treat them that way.

Two decades ago, our organizations created America’s Promise Alliance to focus the nation’s attention on the needs of young people. Today, we’re coming together to rally the nation to recognize the integral roles youth-serving professionals play in young people’s lives. We can do this in three ways: by showing appreciation, volunteering, and donating.

First, we’re challenging every single American to appreciate and elevate youth-serving professionals and their contributions and commitment to young people’s learning and development in this and all times. These professionals are continuing to do their jobs to meet the needs of youth in very challenging circumstances.

Let’s follow the example of The Children’s Institute in Rochester, N.Y., which is finding new ways to support those who are still supporting young people during this uncertain time. The Institute is opening its doors virtually to childcare staff, teaching staff, and anyone who feels they need support with its new Community Check-In Conversation series. These small-group discussions, which are focused on the toll the pandemic has taken on those who work with children, are helping to foster human connection, support relationships, and predict community needs.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, making it the perfect time to think creatively and show gratitude for the youth-serving professionals you know.

Next, look for the ways you can safely lend your time and talents to youth-serving organizations in your community. Seventeen United Ways in Florida are tapping volunteers to record Let’s Read: Online Storytelling videos for Early Head Start students. The Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson in Kentucky is offering staff-facilitated activities throughout the day and evening such as virtual hangouts to lead homework help, “Teen Talk” sessions, and STEM activities. Efforts like these in communities across the country could use extra bandwidth and support. To get started, visit Points of Light to discover tools, resources and virtual volunteer opportunities. And to learn how to foster connection and relationships with young people in this time of physical distance, see MENTOR’s new Virtual Mentoring Portal.

Finally, the sad truth is that this crisis has hit some youth-serving organizations very hard. We anticipate that many will be forced to lay off staff or temporarily pause their services. There’s also a very real concern that public funding and donations to these organizations will decrease just as our young people face increased trauma and need us most.

This financial constriction is happening as youth-serving organizations are adjusting and ratcheting up their services to respond to this crisis, providing crucial support both in your community and nationally. Take the Communities in Schools Los Angeles team, who successfully touched the lives of thousands of families by identifying and working to fill their new needs during uncertain times. They’ve delivered checks, food packages, board games, and headphones to help young people concentrate on learning from home.

One way to support efforts like this is to check in with the organizations that serve young people in your community to discover what they’ve learned about community needs. And if you’re in the financial position to do so, please consider participating on May 5 in Giving Tuesday’s #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of action for giving and unity in the wake of COVID-19, by donating to a youth-focused organization in your area.

If there’s any bright spot in this pandemic, it’s the national re-awakening to the essential role of the many caring adults in our young people’s lives. American families trying to juggle their own work with their children’s learning and activities are seeing the world without the webs of support they and their children have come to rely on.

As we adjust to our “new normal,” let’s all take a moment to show support to the youth-serving professionals in our lives and communities. These caring adults are essential workers; their positive relationships with young people are helping to create a better future for our youth during this crisis and beyond.

Jim Clark, President and CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Brian Gallagher, President and CEO, United Way Worldwide; Natalye Paquin, President and CEO, Points of Light; Rey Saldaña, President and CEO, Communities in Schools; David Shapiro, CEO, MENTOR; Dennis Vega, Interim President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance.