Because I started my new job as a youth transition specialist in July, most of my duties to date have been painting and reorganizing my office, learning about my new position and acclimatizing myself. Once school starts in September, I’ll be full time and working directly with students. To that end, I’ve recently started touring organizations and programs to find out what options my students, as LD and special needs kids, have for their future. What is out there that will help young adults with special challenges transition into successful, self-reliant adulthood?

As it turns out, quite a bit. Last week, I visited a program called Oregon Youth Challenge that helps at risk kids turn their life around. The program, ran by the National Guard in a partnership with the Oregon Department of Education, isn’t for every kid—they have to really want it—but the program makes their expectations very clear. If a child wants to change their life, this program helps them learn self-discipline, respect for themselves and others, leadership skills and how to achieve academic success. The average academic growth for a kid in the 18 month program is a full grade. Five months of the program is residential where they learn what they need to make and achieve goals. The second part of the program is the mentorship component that takes place when they get home. Amazing.

Another program I visited was Supa Fresh Youth Farm. This is a social purpose enterprise that teaches underserved youth leadership skills, work readiness and community involvement, all while growing and selling food.  I spoke to the director and was incredibly impressed by her passion to expand the program to include even more services—they just obtained a grant to focus on more and different kinds of entrepreneurialism. The farm offers paid internships for 50 youth a year.

I had a meeting with an intake coordinator for Job Corp, as well. Again, I was impressed by her passion and determination. Job Corp trains underserved youth in various trades, such as carpentry, forestry, mechanics, medical assisting, etc. Most are residential programs and many are in remote locations. Not only do youth have a chance to learn a trade—at no cost—but they are required to brush up on basic academics and learn networking skills. I plan on visiting several locations this summer and fall as I don’t want to refer a teen to a program that I haven’t personally vetted.

The people I’ve met are on the front lines on the war on generational poverty. Their vocation is their resistance. By working for a better future, they are resisting in their daily lives against a system that is increasingly stacked against youth from below the poverty line or those who have learning disabilities/special needs such as dyslexia, ADD, Asperger’s, physical challenges, etc.

I’m thankful every day that I have the opportunity to resist in my daily life, above and beyond calling my members of congress or writing emails.  By obtaining an education, by learning another language, by putting pen to paper, (or fingers to keyboard), and now in my employment, I am resisting. But I’ve come to realize that life isn’t just about resisting something, it’s about working toward something. I think that’s one of the problems currently grinding down our government–when your platform is resistance only, you forget that you need to actively be building something, as well…and I’m not talking about walls. I’m talking about a future where all children are valued.