How Youth United Builds Social Capital & Youth Success

Oct 15, 2023

At United Way, youth success is everyone’s success. We’re focused on building a better ecosystem that breaks down the barriers to lasting solutions for a brighter future — and young people are the architects of that future.

Youth United connects young people to trusted adults from the community who can offer guidance, advice and inspiration to keep them on the path to realizing their full potential. From these connections, a new generation of United Way young leaders gets the support and encouragement they need to believe in themselves, achieve their dreams and discover their power to make a difference in the world.

Read on to learn more about this valuable youth coaching program, what social capital is and how United Way of Summit & Medina is committed to youth success for the greater good. You just might be the youth coach that changes a kid’s life!

What Is Youth United?

We created the Youth United program to advance our Bold Goal 2, which focuses on youth success both inside and outside the classroom. Not only are we determined to see 90% of high schoolers graduate on time, but we are committed to making sure they’re ready for the next steps after graduation. We worked in partnership with the HV3 Foundation, founded by Akron native and professional golfer Harold Varner III, to design a program that would help kids build social capital, overcome challenges and find long-term fulfillment.

Students spend much of their time away from the classroom. What they do in those non-structured hours — and who they spend it with — has a huge impact on their self-image, the types of relationships they value and their ultimate success.

Youth United pairs each eligible student with an adult youth coach for a mutually beneficial mentoring experience. All Akron Public Schools students aged 13 to 18 are eligible. They must obtain parental permission and complete a written application to begin the program. We call them Youth Leaders once enrolled to reflect their initiative and boldness in taking charge of their own success and becoming role models for their peers.

To be a Success Coach, adults from the community must meet several requirements, including:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • A commitment to the program of at least one year
  • Successful completion of an in-person or virtual interview
  • Successful completion and passing of a BCI/FBI background check
  • Successful completion of an online training program

Once fully vetted, Success Coaches can spend time with Youth Leaders engaging in hobbies, exploring work environments, prepping for college life or participating in enrichment events through United Way. Young leaders and their mentors have had past opportunities to meet Mr. Varner, attend sports events and meet local community and civic leaders.

What Is Social Capital and Why Does It Matter?

Positive connections with other people and a sense of trust in others are key components of feeling happy and fulfilled in life. They’re also the underpinnings of social capital — a term scholars have used for over 100 years, though it may seem brand new to many of us. In essence, social capital is the value we derive from nurturing positive relationships with other people and from seeing ourselves as contributing something to our wider community.

But how do we connect to others in this increasingly digitized world? And how do we figure out what we can contribute to our community?

A sense of loneliness and isolation sprang up during the pandemic, and it has continued to spread as our relationships have become transactional, limited to an online “like” or a guarded exchange with strangers. Many people have become distrustful of not just other people but of our institutions and perhaps even the very fabric of society. A loss of trust and a rise of loneliness put all of us — but especially young people — at risk of a host of mental and physical health problems.

Youth United aims at building social capital through face-to-face relationships that give young people opportunities to ask questions, learn skills and discover a world beyond the limitations of their immediate environment. By connecting with an adult outside their family, Youth Leaders begin to understand that their creativity, intellect, ingenuity, skill or kindness has real worth.

A sense of connection to other people through healthy relationships and a sense of empowerment to contribute your best to the world are the building blocks of social capital — and of the Youth United program.

Purpose of United Way Youth Programs

From the foundations of literacy embedded in our Imagination Library to our support for advanced education through the College and Career Academies of Akron, United Way youth programs are focused on developing the next generation of smart, caring, successful leaders. Youth United aligns with our broader goals of improving lives throughout our community, just as our Family Resource Centers expand the reach of our educational system to help parents and caregivers get access to financial coaching, wellness programs and more. A community is only as strong as its most vulnerable members, and Youth United brings hope and real-life opportunity to young people at risk of slipping through the cracks.

How Youth Benefits From Adult Mentorship

United Way young leaders begin building social capital during their experience in Youth United. What does that look like? Youth Leader benefits often manifest as:

Higher Self-Esteem

By interacting as an equal with a mentor who has successfully navigated the complicated world of adulthood, Youth Leaders begin to see themselves as capable of finding success of their own. Many teens who enter this program have not had opportunities to flex their own intellectual or social muscles. The time their Success Coach spends with them shows them they have their own inherent value and are worthy of an adult’s serious attention.

Better Relationships With Others

Many young people in our community are exposed to a series of dysfunctional relationships. Whether it’s with their parents, siblings or peers, these relationships often teach them the worst ways of communicating — like manipulating, bullying or being untruthful. Developing an honest and productive relationship with a Success Coach helps them understand healthier ways of expressing emotions, communicating needs and reciprocating respect.

Improved Interpersonal Skills

United Way young leaders learn valuable interpersonal skills as they interact with their Success Coaches. Also known as people skills or “soft” skills, interpersonal skills include active listening, problem-solving, emotion regulation and non-verbal communication like body language and tone of voice. These skills are invaluable for functioning as part of a team, resolving conflicts and finding success in both work and personal life.

Greater Odds of Overall Success in Life

By building social capital through their connection with a Success Coach, our community’s youth gains benefits that follow them well into adulthood. The encouragement of a mentor helps build a stronger sense of self that can keep young people from falling into negative behaviors, like drug use or crime. And these structured relationships can empower kids to reach higher, strive harder and expect more from themselves and their lives than they might have imagined possible.

How Youth Mentoring Benefits Our Community

United Way of Summit and Medina is committed to working in, with and for our community to build lasting success for everyone. Youth United is one of many resources aimed at helping all our neighbors achieve the lives they want while bringing out our common interest in the greater good. Success Coaches gain the personal satisfaction of empowering the next generation to develop their voices and talents to be the decision-makers of the future and stand up for what they believe in. This one-on-one leadership benefits all of us by ensuring a strong connection to our local culture, an abundance of opportunities for continued growth and a clear pathway to fulfilling careers or educational outcomes. When young people feel empowered to achieve, we all gain from a community that thrives.

Building Social Capital With United Way

Ready to do your part in building social capital for yourself, the next generation and beyond? There are many ways you can contribute to our collective success in Summit and Medina Counties! Sign up to be a Youth United Success Coach or enroll as a Youth Leader today and enjoy upcoming enrichment events, like the Family Resource Center Health and Wellness Fair on October 7, Big Shots with First Tee on November 9, and other fun activities in the works for December, January and February.

You can also volunteer in another capacity or donate to see real returns on your investment in the better future we’re building together.

In our community. With our community. For our community.

Invest where it matters

Your donation directly benefits the people of Summit & Medina counties.

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