11/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It Takes (More Than) a Village: A Few Words for Colorado's Young People

Given the current fiscal challenges we're facing in Colorado -- highlighted by a forecast yesterday by Colorado's Legislative Council that another $241 million (in addition to the $320 million slashed last month) must be cut from the state budget -- I felt compelled to address what this climate means for Colorado's young people. The abundant talk about cutting funding to "core services" rightfully rattles our collective resolve to bounce back from this recession -- and the impacts these cuts may have on important programs geared toward Colorado's youth (not to mention other groups) could be deep and longstanding.

More than ten years ago, Hillary Clinton -- in her book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us -- made a sound argument for the importance of broad, societal support for America's youth. Sure, support provided within individual families remains central to the success of kids, but there's something to be said for the incalculable benefits community imparts on youth, especially when families become broken. I am a direct beneficiary of 'the village.' My hometown is a place where packs of small children roam the streets on their bicycles, where the nurturing of children is carried out by the whole community, where kids can safely leave town after high school to experience life on the outside, forever knowing that -- if all else fails -- they'll be warmly welcomed back into the fold. Even so, the village is not enough -- not even my 'perfect' village.

To Colorado's young people, like me, who have availed yourselves of the support system of one of Colorado's many villages:

Now is our time to be strong and independent. Our inclination may be to run back to our village when we graduate in a down job market, or get laid off in corporate downsizing, or become demoralized in the face of competing for jobs with people twice our age (with twice our experience). That security blanket can seem so comforting, can't it? The mere idea of it can get us through the next challenging day. But let's resist the temptation to cover up -- if for no other reason than because that blanket's pretty threadbare these days.

President Obama's back-to-school remarks a couple of weeks ago resonated with me when he stressed self discovery through education. His message was that, ultimately, each individual is responsible for her success and happiness, and that education is but a stepping stone along a longer path of personal growth and development.

We're searching for our own identity right now. Let's find it. Let's branch out, let's be persistent, let's be accountable, let's create, let's work hard... let's empower ourselves to build a future that we create with our hands, hearts and minds. Right now, we're smoke jumpers -- we're fighting the forest fire of our lives. Sure, the immediate challenge is scorching, imposing, and omnipresent, but the long term disposition will bring rebirth, enrichment, and (hopefully) a sense of serenity.

Though current challenges facing Coloradans have increased tensions within our communities, within our government, and within our collective psyche, they've also presented us with a unique opportunity to hit the reset button and redefine ourselves -- individually, and as a state. I see Colorado's young people taking risks and making moves already; let's keep this movement going!