The Difference a Caring Adult Can Make

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From left, Craig McClay, Tyler Bleuel,
Calla Gilson and Deon Jones

“Every child needs someone to tell them, ‘I hear you. I see you. What you say matters to me.’” That’s how Deon Jones, special project assistant to the president of Be the Change Inc., opened the June 17 Creating a Bright Future for Our Kids Forum at the Conference on Volunteering and Service. Jones, brought up in difficult circumstances by a single mother, spoke of the power of mentors in his life, including Maya Angelou and a high school teacher who was in the audience.

Sponsored by Target – which will contribute $1 billion to K-12 education by the end of next year – the session focused on the power of caring adults to affect the lives of young people and took a deeper dive into the complexities of mentoring.

Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light, highlighted research that showed the need for caring adults in the lives of young people. She quoted a study that said 76 percent of young people growing up in disadvantaged areas who have mentors or caring adults want to go to college; this number is much lower for those without mentors.

“We need to identify and lift up school improvement models that work,” Hoover said, “then juice every single one of those proven models with volunteers, caring adults.”

Hoover introduced Reba Dominkski, Target’s senior director on education and community relations, who reinforced the need for service as a motivator and a healer. She said “together in service we can show our youth that education matters, service matters and they matter.”

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John Gomperts

Following Dominski’s talk about Target’s work in the community, John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, spoke about the organization’s report, “Don’t Call Them Dropouts.” The report was compiled from interviews and focus groups with young people who dropped out of high school.

The report explains that while caring adults are critical to helping young people want to stay in school, students in danger of dropping out also need connections to people and places that help them solve problems that hinder school achievement.

“Caring is important and necessary but not sufficient,” Gomperts said.

Craig McClay, who led the “Don’t Call Them Dropouts” project, then moderated a panel of young change-makers, members of the GenerationOn Youth Advisory Council – Deon Jones, Tyler Bleuel and Calla Gilson. All three panelists recognized the importance of the caring adults in their lives.

To add a research-based perspective, Gomperts led a panel featuring Melissa Bradley, chief strategy officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Craig McClay; and Eugene Roehlkepartain, vice president of research and development at the Search Institute.

To find out what else happened at the 2014 Conference on Volunteering and Service in Atlanta, click here.