Next weekend I’m heading down south to celebrate my sister’s graduation from college. Although the festivities are sure to be merry, they are slightly tempered by the fact that she will be joining my class, the “class of the great recession,” and enter the labor force at a time when more than half of recent graduates have not be able to get a full-time, salaried job with benefits; nearly half of us find ourselves in jobs that do not even require a college diploma, and nearly one in 10 of us are unemployed. The worst recession in decades and the slow economic recovery has clearly punished those full of big ideas but short on work experience or skills.
And yet, as Rahm Emanuel famously said at the start of the Obama administration amidst the financial collapse, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
The dearth of employment in the formal work force has provided an opportunity for recent graduates to travel, volunteer or even take the risk of trying to create their own jobs. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed that a growing number of us are–at least temporarily–opting out of the labor force entirely, as measured by the drop in labor force participation rate among college graduates under 25. This summer, I’m joining that demographic as a volunteer program leader for the Summer of Solutions in Oakland, subsisting off of a meager stipend and the generosity of my parents.
While sometimes I wish I had the stability and salary of a formal job like some of my friends, most days I am incredibly exited not to have to sit in an office and instead have the opportunity to work at the grassroots level on the issues I truly care about in my own backyard of Oakland. Summer of Solutions is a is a 2-month program that trains participants how to develop the green economy by creating hands-on, community-based solutions to environmental and social injustices. Throughout the summer, participants learn not just valuable leadership skills that will be useful no matter what they choose to do after the summer ends, but also how to make grassroots community change that integrates climate and energy solutions, economic security, and social justice.
For too long, I have been part of the youth climate movement that has been busy telling politicians what we don’t want–coal plants, factory farms, gas subsidies etc.–without showing them examples of practical solutions. Now, I am part of a new movement of over 250 young people around the country who are working in their local communities to create change under the umbrella of 15 Summer of Solutions programs. Although the program doesn’t officially start for another couple of weeks, I’ve already been impressed by the qualifications, enthusiasm and dedication of the other leaders and participants. While we don’t yet have specifics on all of the projects we’ll be working on since many of these depend on the group desires and community needs, we’ve already formed valuable partnerships with local organizations within our focus areas of food justice, clean energy, transformational media and thriving communities.
Of course, in order to successfully implement all of these solutions, we’re fundraising like crazy. We’re hoping to raise $8,000 in the next two weeks in order to provide stipends to low-income youth participants, subsidize food and housing for all program participants and purchase materials for our projects. If you or anyone you know wants to make a tax-deductible donation to support our program, please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/SoS-Oakland. Every penny really does count, particularly since there isn’t any administrative cost (remember, we’re all volunteers)!