For over 20 years, I've welcomed the opportunity to work with young people and the individuals and organizations that support them. In my travels around the United States for World Vision, I engage a diverse cross-section of our 3,000 partners, including schools, churches, and community-based organizations, and our 2 million beneficiaries. They work on issues ranging from education to homelessness. Over and over, I find the words of Albert Einstein to be true: "All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual."
If you asked most Americans to name the world's top economic and military power, most probably would say the United States. And if asked which country did the best job of ensuring child well-being, many would give the same answer. Why would you want to live anywhere else? People risk their lives to find the dream called America.
But for too many young people in the United States, particularly those of color, this hope is not the reality. During a trip to Washington, D.C., I met a young girl named Maria. Her dream is to become a teacher. She was inspired by a summer school science teacher who taught her that learning could also be fun. She is smart, funny, and caring. Can Maria's dream become reality? What is ability without opportunity?
We trail the world's most developed countries in child well-being, ranking just above the bottom. Over 16.4 million American children, or one in five, live in poverty, and 8.3 million children lack health care. Many more fail to meet U.S. education standards. Those one in five impoverished children have limited opportunity to develop and carry the values, ideas, and worldview that makes our country great and brings out the best in all of us.
The Center for Children in Poverty estimates that we have lost all of the gains we made over the past 50 years in child well-being. We've lost opportunity. We are facing a crisis that demands an urgent response in these politically charged and polarized times.
How do we respond?
I have seen the powerful impact that access to a quality education and the tools needed to learn can have on breaking the cycle of poverty. The education of all our children opens the door to opportunity. It is one key to breaking the economic crisis we currently face. We can learn from the history of the modern Olympics, which were revived in 1896 by a French nobleman, the Baron de Coubertin. He believed that the education system could be reformed through sport.
World Vision is rebuilding hope at home by empowering young people through effective educational and developmental programs, building the capacity of our partners, public policy advocacy, disaster response, and mobilizing over $60 million in resources to improve child well-being. We choose to remain hopeful, to work strategically, to measure outcomes and to work with others to make a difference. Like Coubertin, we believe the well-being of children can be improved through the right resources and opportunities.
For this reason, we are a partner in Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan national campaign made up of more than 250 nonprofits, businesses, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, community organizations, and individuals. We know that together, we can achieve the shared plan to restore opportunity and social mobility in America. We know that young adults can boost our global competiveness and economy, create more opportunity in their communities, and help us avoid the financial and societal costs of marginalizing them. We know that we can all make a difference working together.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that "in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream." Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "America is another name for opportunity." My dream is of an America ripe with opportunity. I'm excited to lead World Vision's work in the U.S. and I'm excited about our connection to Opportunity Nation. Together, we can help young adults live the Olympic motto -- "Citius, Altius, Fortius," Latin for "Swifter, Higher, Stronger" -- in every facet of their lives.
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.
For more information on World Vision's U.S. Programs, go to please click here.