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United for a Better Tomorrow - The Youth Empowerment Summit

Gabe TrujilloBy Gabe Trujillo

United Way TEAM NFL Intern

Imagine sitting with three of your closest friends from high school, talking about classes, movies and plans for summer vacation. Now imagine that one of the friends you’re sitting with will not be able to graduate on time.

This scenario is all too real for high school kids across the United States as recent studies show that 1 in 4 high school students will not graduate high school on time. Research also shows that a student drops out of high school in the U.S. every 26 seconds, a truly alarming statistic.

In an effort to improve the current education landscape in the U.S., United Way has partnered with several players from the National Football League to recruit volunteer readers, tutors and mentors. As a part of an initiative to cut the dropout rate in half by 2018, United Way and Team NFL are pledging to recruit these volunteers to help students succeed in the classroom and reach their graduation goals.

To kick off this initiative, United Way held a Youth Empowerment Summit at American University in Washington D.C. this past June. Some of the best and brightest high school students from across the country were invited to participate in the summit and help United Way spread the word about the importance of earning your education and helping students in your community.

During their time at the summit, students were partnered up with several United Way volunteers and NFL players and participated in workshops to discuss the state of education and come up with ways for the community to help students achieve their academic goals.

As a Team NFL intern and representative for Arizona Cardinals Defensive End Calais Campbell, I was invited to participate in the summit and help promote and share the activities via social media. From status updates to tweets and blog posts, the Team NFL interns documented and shared all the activities that took place during the summit. Social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate and utilizing this medium is an excellent way to reach a global audience and spread the word about the volunteer recruiting efforts. Throughout the three-day summit, I worked with Campbell and several high school students from states across the western U.S and shared my experience via my social media profiles.

From the first moment I walked into the summit, I was in awe of those who were participating. On one hand you had incredible United Way volunteers who are dedicating their time and energy to put together an amazing event and help spread the word about the importance of volunteering. And on the other hand you had a group of some truly extraordinary high school students who have overcome their own adversity to succeed in school. Being able to speak to these students and hear their stories was an inspiring experience.

Everyone was in such great spirits and was eager to share their thoughts and ideas on how to help students and reduce the high school dropout rate. The enthusiasm and optimism was infectious as students and NFL players interacted and shared their stories about their education experiences. During one of the workshops, Calais Campbell even shared his own personal story about education and how earning his degree was an important part in his success both on and off the field.

After the day of workshops, the players and students made their way to Capitol Hill and met with several congressmen and staff members to urge them to help promote this initiative and recruit volunteers. On a personal level, this was my 1st trip to Washington D.C. and it was a truly amazing experience. As I walked through the halls of Congress and stood at the steps of Capitol Hill, I was in awe of my surroundings. Just being in such a historic environment and interacting with such prominent political figures in an incredible atmosphere was amazing.

All in all, the summit was an amazing event. From the support of the NFL players and United Way staff, to the enthusiasm and inspiration of the high school students, I learned and experienced things that I will never forget. This is a great initiative that encourages everyone in their communities to help students reach their graduation goals by volunteering to be a reader, tutor or mentor. Anyone can make a difference in a student’s life and whether it’s for 5 min. or 5 days a week, every bit can help and make an impact.

At the end of this initiative, United Way hopes to have recruited 1 million volunteers and cut the dropout rate in half by 2018. While it seems like a large task, with everyone’s help, this goal is completely attainable. If we all do our part in our own community earning a high school diploma can become a reality for any student who dreams of success both inside and outside the classroom.

If you would like to become a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor for students in your community, join Team Calais and sign up online at http://www.unitedway.org/calais.