Sheri Schultz visiting with YouthBuild graduates in Brooklyn, New York.

I was honored to celebrate YouthBuild USA’s 40th anniversary in New York last week. Sponsoring the gala celebration through our family foundation and visiting one of their programs in Brooklyn, DREAMS, the previous day were both powerful experiences. The trip took me back to my visit to East Harlem ten years ago, when I first visited a YouthBuild program. Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild’s founder and visionary, and Melinda Giovengo with YouthCare here in Seattle urged me to make the trip. That day mattered. The young people I met, the authenticity of their stories and the connection the students had with each other had a big impact on me and ultimately impacted the work of our foundation.

YouthBuild USA is a nonprofit that provides pathways to education, workforce training and jobs for young adults who are not in school or working. It was founded by Dorothy Stoneman, who started her career as a schoolteacher in East Harlem. She experienced great success as a teacher and gained the trust of students and their families. But she also recognized that there was a huge need outside of the walls of her classrooms. She began talking to young people and listening to them. Based on the needs and aspirations she heard over and over, she started a nonprofit that would empower youth by helping them develop themselves and impact their community.

Sheri Schultz with a YouthBuild DREAMS student in Brooklyn, New York.

40 years later, YouthBuild has turned into an international organization in 44 states and 22 countries. But it was one person with a vision and sheer will that made the difference for thousands.

I visited the DREAMS program in Brooklyn with Daniel Pitasky, our foundation’s executive director, hours before the big event. I’ve visited many YouthBuild programs since that first time in East Harlem, but this day was one that left an impact on me. The students eagerly led me on a tour of a building that was being renovated as affordable housing and would also host a computer lab for the local community. They told Daniel and me about their lives and what led them to YouthBuild, and the many ways they’ve benefited from the program. We also had the chance to spend time with graduates of YouthBuild, some of them decades removed from the program and with years of success in business and academics under their belts. It was incredibly powerful to hear these former YouthBuild students share where they came from, where they are now, and how they continue to give back to their communities.

This group was just a small representation of the 4.6 million young people in the US between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working—often called opportunity youth.

This is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable because no one deserves to live a life without hope, and it’s unacceptable because each of them has so much potential. And it’s unacceptable because these young people are the same as our children, except for their circumstances.

Like YouthBuild, the Schultz Family Foundation is devoted to young people who need a chance at success.

The mission of our foundation is to unlock potential, one individual and one community at a time. We focus our efforts on creating real pathways to opportunities and providing the supports necessary to take advantage of them.

To make a real difference, it’s going to take all of us. Businesses around the country have jobs to fill. Philanthropy needs to innovate and continue to support projects making a difference. Nonprofits need to make sure youth are job ready. And all of us need to be involved. We need to take it personally.

I encourage you to learn more about YouthBuild and how you can get involved at https://www.youthbuild.org/.