Help Kids Serve Today to Lead Tomorrow

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A movement is underway to continue improving the lives of youth and families in Indiana. This movement was made official by The Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana at the end of last year when the group released a three-year strategic plan so every child in the state can grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, and have ample opportunities to become a healthy, productive adult.

As a leader of Kiwanis International, an organization that’s been in existence for more than 100 years, it is a privilege to know that our work is a part of Indiana’s efforts. Our mission is simple: We help children. Through our many service programs, we provide youth at all levels with opportunities to learn, grow and succeed. Kiwanis programs, teach young people the importance of values and putting others first. Our reputable clubs, including K-Kids for elementary school students, Builders Club for middle school students, Key Club for high school students and Circle K International (CKI) for college students provide opportunities to learn, apply new skills and become leaders inside and outside of the classroom.

Building leadership and service-oriented skills starting at a young age is instrumental in preparing kids for challenging academic courses, extra-curricular activities and future work or military assignments. My motto is build their character today and watch them fly tomorrow.

The U.S. Army, a partner of Kiwanis, shares the same values and commitment in developing the academic and leadership potential of young adults. With a strong foundation in place, well-rounded skills, an innate desire to serve others and abundant education and career incentives, military service can be an attractive option for motivated young adults—including my own son. As a parent, it’s been an honor to watch him continue to grow as a servant leader through his service in the armed forces.

To get to this place – seeing your own child proudly spread his or her wings – a village of support is needed at the family level, school level and community level.

However, it also takes a different level of engagement to reach today’s young adults, who are digitally savvy, environmentally conscious and seeking opportunities to work and volunteer for organizations that live up to these standards. Therefore, organizations need to adapt and stay relevant to engage in a more purposeful way with younger generations. Service groups like Kiwanis are experiencing a downturn in family support and involvement in youth programs compared to previous generations.

The same goes for military service. At least 85 percent of Millennials aren’t interested in joining the military, according to a survey by the Harvard Institute of Politics.

We must continue innovating, communicating differently and showing young people the benefits of being involved in and supporting volunteer programs. These factors are critical to attracting fresh perspectives and up-and-coming leaders for volunteer or business endeavors. At Kiwanis, we’re developing new, more direct and personalized models to continue engaging youth and families. Using the strength of our existing model as a springboard, we’re looking to Millennials, college students and teens to help shape the next generation of Kiwanis community service and leadership

The U.S. Army is also changing and taking action to increase and diversify its service members, particularly when it comes to women and minorities. In October 2016, the Army graduated its first 10 female lieutenants from its Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course and in December 2016, female Soldiers passed the equally challenging Armor Basic Officer Leader Course for the first time. To continue attracting high-quality, service-oriented individuals, the Army has started offering enlistment incentives, including signing bonuses, tuition assistance and scholarship opportunities.

And it’s heartening to know that another local leader tackling youth development issues is the Indiana Youth Institute (IYI), an organization that studies and addresses challenging issues such as poverty, inequality and violence facing our young people. IYI frequently releases new research, hosts community forums, offers mentorship best practices and provides professional training for professionals who work with youth.

Think about how your organization is relevant to today’s youth and how you’re engaging with them. Consider looking to organizations like mine, the Army and IYI for ideas and resources. Make a commitment to follow our local government’s lead and dedication to improving the lives of children across the state by 2019 and consider how you can play a role in this important initiative individually and as a business leader. Today’s youth are the future of your business; start investing in them now.

Stan Soderstrom is executive director of Kiwanis International Indianapolis.

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