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Connecting Youth and Business to Create Opportunity

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Earlier this year, Ray Morel, a 20-year-old from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, presented at the White House. "I feel honored, anxious, and ready to go out there," he said before introducing Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, at the White House Youth Summit on Community Solutions. What prepared him for this opportunity on the national stage?

Just a few years ago, Ray was a high school student without job experience or employment opportunities. He came across a flyer for a program that offered not just work experience, but also the mentorship he needed to get an internship and, eventually, his first job at a Gap store in New York. "It was definitely an essential part of my growing up," he said. "It motivated me to become a better person and outgrow the obstacles that were in my way. Going up in front of people and expressing my ideas was a big one."

Today, many young people are missing out on this important rite of passage: their first job. While not all companies can provide entry level jobs, there are a range of ways that companies can introduce young people to the business world and the knowledge, skills, and experience that are required to take the first step to getting a job.

Since our founding in 1969, Gap Inc. has given hundreds of thousands of young people their first jobs in our retail stores. Our employees have experience hiring and training young people and look for ways to use these skills to better our communities. Through a variety of programs, our employees volunteer their time to share with young people what it takes to get and keep a job.

We were able to capture and share what we have learned about working with youth in the Connecting Youth & Business toolkit, which supports the work of the White House Council on Community Solutions. The toolkit, created with the support of McKinsey & Company, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Taproot Foundation and with input from nonprofit and private sector reviewers, shares with businesses different ways they can provide youth with work and learning experiences that can put them on a path to success. Opportunity Nation offers this toolkit on its website for any employer to use.

Today, Ray is pursuing a bachelor's degree in business management at Staten Island College while also working at the New York City Department of Education. With the right support, encouragement, and development, young people like Ray can reach beyond what they think is possible. And it's our belief in their possibilities and potential that fuels their dreams and gives them the courage to believe in themselves. Doesn't every young person deserve that chance?

We think so.

Learn more about how your business can create opportunities for young people in your community at www.opportunitynation.org/youthandbusiness.

This post is part of a series produced by Opportunity Nation for The Huffington Post in conjunction with their Week of Action, a seven-day collaborative exercise demonstrating that every American can play a role in the shared effort to restore opportunity and social mobility in our country. More information is available at Opportunity Nation.