The streets are more dangerous for kids these days—more drugs, guns, gangs. More senseless violence. A child can slip through the cracks just as easily in the inner city as in a middle-class suburb. Parents are busy, communities fractured. Even in the best circumstances, children can’t avoid being influenced by the media—with celebrity role models who are rich, beautiful and morally bankrupt.
Kids often don’t learn the basic skills necessary to be successful in life such as time management, self-motivation and goal setting, nor gain the encouragement to build self-esteem and to pursue their dreams.
A handful of organizations fill the void, shaping character and nurturing young minds for generations. Among them: The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Students In Free Enterprise.
Many successful alumni credit their success to America’s youth organizations. These include presidents, captains of business, astronauts, entertainers, visionaries and inventors.
One of the most vocal is actor Denzel Washington, who wrote about his experience with what then was The Boys Club in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in his 2006 book, A Hand to Guide Me. “The Boys Club, that’s where I looked for hope and purpose and direction. That’s where I learned to dream—to think big,” he says. “It was where I learned how to play ball, where I learned how to focus and set my mind on a goal, where I learned about consequences, where I learned how to be a man.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” Created in 1906, the organization serves more than 4.8 million boys and girls ages 6 to 18 in 4,000 clubs that provide a safe place to learn and grow while having fun.
The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship helps “every young person find a pathway to prosperity,” including kids in low-income communities where entrepreneurs don’t crop up every day. The organization has a fully developed curriculum, certified teachers, and public and private resources. Since its founding in 1987, NFTE has reached more than 150,000 young people and trained more than 4,100 certified entrepreneurship teachers. “Young people want to understand how to be in control of their own destiny and, in some respects, be able to enter the marketplace with the view of an entrepreneur,” says Michael Caslin, NFTE executive vice president.
The Girl Scouts of America’s cookie sales program is its most visible, resulting in about 200 million boxes sold each year. Before making that sweet transaction, a Girl Scout has done some focused training and decision-making on how to sell, set goals based on realistic parameters, created a plan to reach those goals, learned all about her products, mastered math and money handling and discussed with her fellow members how the earnings will be used. Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts says, “About 80 percent of the top women in U.S. businesses were Girl Scouts. Most of them sold cookies.” Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, serves 3.7 members and helps girls develop leadership skills, strong values, social conscience and conviction about their own potential and self-worth.
The Boy Scouts of America makes five promises to its youth: an ongoing relationship with a caring mentor, a safe and structured environment, a healthy start, a marketable skill and an opportunity to give back. Created in 1910, Boy Scouts now boasts almost 1 million members. With educational programs, merit badges and other activities, Boy Scouts helps “provide building blocks for a young person to become a responsible, older person,” says Robert Mazzuca, chief Scout executive.
Junior Achievement is one of the best-known youth business groups, created 90 years ago and now reaching 8.3 million students in more than 100 countries. From kindergarten through high school, JA has age-appropriate curricula as well as lessons that give kids real-world examples with business leaders as trained volunteers. “If we get our message to kids while they’re in school before they have problems, we will help them become productive, contributing members of society,” says Jack Kosakowski president of the U.S. program and executive vice president and COO of Junior Achievement Worldwide.
Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) in partnership with business and higher education, establishes student teams on university campuses led by faculty advisors, with 601 teams in the United States and 38,406 active students worldwide. Students develop community outreach projects on educational topics including market economics, success skills, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and business ethics. “When you come to a SIFE event, there’s a belief that this is the future generation that really does have the potential to change the world, and to be a part of that is very extraordinary,” says Denise Morrison, president of Campbell USA, a corporate donor.