Sometimes, the world can be a scary place. Of the total number of homicide deaths each year, about 43% are children, teens, and young adults ages 10 to 29. By 2010, approximately 70,800 youth were behind bars in the United States alone — and that’s not counting the thousands who were tried as adults. And as global secondary school graduation rates slowly begin to rise, here, the number has plateaued.
They’re startling statistics, no doubt, but there’s still a bright facet of hope for young people of the world, and it comes in the form of kindness and understanding. That’s why we decided to make our #GetKind theme for this month “Mentoring” — specifically the mentoring of at-risk youth (i.e. any young person for whom the potential for life-altering tragedies, incidents, or decisions is high, be it family, community, or education related).
Getting to the root of the problem is often the toughest part. Of course we’re not experts, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to assist those who strive professionally to make a difference in these young people’s lives. Here are a few ways you can lend a hand in your neighborhood:
- Find a place to volunteer your time. According to last year’s report, the Boys and Girls Club of America served about 3.8 million young people and was operating in over 4,000 clubs and schools nationwide. Spend some time getting to know the youth of your community by volunteering as a mentor — if you’re a student, you might even be able to earn college credits, all while serving those children who need your help the most.
- Offer to help out with local Scout Troops or 4H programs. If you have children of your own, this is the perfect way to reach out and get involved. Spend your after-school hours organizing activities that engage and educate while still allowing kids the room they need to explore. (Pro-tip? Cookies are always a big draw….)
- Donate to schools or youth groups in your community. As schools around the world face dire levels of supplies and textbooks — and as budgets across the United States and the western world grow thinner — donations of gently used books, art supplies, and classroom items can mean the difference between a child finding their passion and one who goes home unhappy and without a productive way to pass their free time. Find out how you can sponsor a program or youth in your neighborhood and effect change on a personal level.
- Become a tutor or a coach. About one out of every four high school students drops out of school prior to completion — and while the statistics have improved over the last few years, certain young people and children are still at risk. The National Dropout Prevention Center cites many factors in school dropout rates, some of which include negative school climates and a general disregard for individual learning styles — something that one-on-one tutoring and after-school coaching can often change. Remember: a positive attitude and open understanding can make a huge difference in a young person’s future.
- Offer your services or donate to a school-based or community anti-bullying program. Stop Bullying, a U.S. based institution, suggests that community members looking to help should “identify partners such as mental health specialists, law enforcement officers, neighborhood associations, service groups, faith-based organizations, and businesses” who are willing to take a stand and together, “learn what types of bullying community members see and discuss developing targeted solutions.” Teens too, they advise, can take leadership roles in the prevention of bullying among younger children. Stronger communities often amount to less overall at-risk youth, as young people feel they have an outlet for frustrations and grievances.
- Talk and listen. More often than not, when at-risk youth lash out, it’s because they’re trying to be heard. When grades drop or teens begin to recede from their family and friends’ circles, it’s because they feel misunderstood or out of place. The smartest way to prevent this is to lend your ear and become a quiet respite from the chaos of a young person’s life. Listen more and talk a little bit less. Encourage their kind acts and applaud their hard work. By giving them a supportive space to breathe and vent, you’re gently redirecting kids and teens’ problem habits down a healthier channel.
Approaching the topic of at-risk youth can be tricky, as there is no real way of determining which direction to head first. But by starting small, by creating opportunities to show patience and kindness, you’re enacting change on a monumental level, simply by starting the ball rolling — and after all, “if we are to reach real peace in this world,” as the venerable Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, “we shall have to begin with children.”
Let’s get out and #GetKind.
Have an idea for an act in your community but need assistance with materials or funding? Stop by and fill out one of our Act Proposal forms. We’re here to help you #GetKind!