by Jessica Washington

The magnitude of outrage and concern we’ve witnessed in Baltimore over recent weeks reflects tension felt on a much larger scale than what’s on the surface. The city’s infrastructure has been burdened by a struggling education system, high unemployment rates and a failure of the community to mobilize in a positive way to come up with solutions that supports and empowers its members to thrive, leading to limited opportunities and systemic inequality.

Unfortunately, the tragedies in Baltimore have helped show the world why we need to work collectively to provide opportunities for our nation’s youth to succeed. We are proud to advocate for the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which provides teens who’ve struggled perpetually in school with an all-encompassing, supportive environment in which they can flourish in all facets of their life and contribute to a thriving community.

At the National Guard Youth Foundation, we’re launching numerous workforce and career development initiatives to provide pathways to jobs and continued education for graduates of the program, which has helped more than 131,000 young people increase their employability and academic achievement.

Through our Career Readiness Program, ChalleNGe program participants are exposed to STEM and STEAM skills training and participate in career exploration opportunities they might not have had access to otherwise. In addition, we’ve piloted a new workforce development program with the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which we hope to develop with other chambers and organizations in all 29 states and territories where ChalleNGe programs are located.

ChalleNGe is gaining traction as an effective program for our young people, and one that should be emulated in order to build up these young men and women so they are able to succeed no matter what obstacles are placed in front of them. We would like to thank all who support the National Guard Youth Foundation and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. With your help, we are working to help expand ChalleNGe so it is available to more young people who need it.

Together, we are working to change America’s future one young life at a time.