Of all the ways to give back to the community, giving to children in need is among the best. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that relatively small contributions in childhood can significantly improve the course of that child’s life. It’s really not that hard for us to support children to break the cycle of poverty and to make Colorado a better place to live for everyone.
We know how difficult it can be to try to change legislation. While there’s value in working on efforts to expand the education budget, state-wide action requires an immense amount of thought and effort.
Luckily, any one of us can start by making a real difference with much more manageable investments of our time. We can act on our feelings of gratitude by contributing our hearts, minds, money, and time to the causes we believe in. Our example might even inspire a few more people to contribute as well.
Let’s start our journey of giving by understanding the challenges that we can address. Through understanding, we gain the ability to make educated decisions about the most impactful ways to help.
1. Read about the Issues: Help remove the barriers that historically disenfranchised children must overcome to have a shot at the American Dream
Here’s a quick primer to get you started: Most of us agree that every child should have the opportunity to reach his/her potential regardless of ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic background. Despite differing circumstances, we all believe children deserve a chance. But when we look at data on rising income inequality, many have started to believe that our economy has evolved in a way that is: “…not working well for the majority of Americans because it’s producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots.” (Ray Dalio, “Why and How Capitalism Needs to Be Reformed”).
The American Dream is only real when students have equal access to education. Otherwise, over one out of every three Americans does not have a fair chance of financial success.
Looking at the lifetime earnings of high school dropouts, diploma holders, and college graduates, it becomes clear that education (or lack of quality education options) plays a role in this stratification. Degree attainment is directly linked to earnings, and therefore tax revenue.
Earning a high-school diploma can contribute to a 35% pay raise ($9,600 annual salary increase) over the course of a child’s life. Finishing college can lead to an additional 67% increase ($24,600 annual salary increase).
If a kid from a low socioeconomic background wants to overcome the cycle of poverty, then obtaining a baccalaureate is a great way to do it. But there are significant barriers between many low-income students and high school graduation, much less a college degree.
One in three young Coloradans face significant educational challenges
Over one in three children (38%) in Colorado schools go home to low-income households (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2016). Given the difficulties in providing food, shelter, transportation, childcare, and other day-to-day living expenses, the likelihood that a child from this environment will persist, graduate with a diploma, and graduate from college are incredibly low compared to their more affluent peers (in some cases less than 15% as likely!).
Level of education has less to do with intelligence than with communal, familial, and personal challenges. Removing some of these challenges or addressing their impact can significantly shift the odds for these kids. (Read about education inequity in Colorado.)
The Cycle of Poverty and Education: Four facts say it all
- Nearly 9 out of every 10 affluent Colorado high school students will graduate with a diploma.
- Only about 2 out of 3 disadvantaged kids will finish high school, leaving close to one out of three without a diploma and limited job prospects.
- 4 out of 5 low-income children have parents who did not graduate high school. Parents who didn’t graduate high school may then have kids who are less likely to graduate. The cycle of hardship continues.
- Now consider that fewer than 1 out of 3 low-income kids has a parent who completed some college or more.
These facts highlight how intergenerational education attainment can affect intergenerational economic attainment and reduce the risk that kids will live in a low-resource environment. Increased educational attainment increases the odds that the next generation will go to college, and so on.
(National Center for Children in Poverty, Colorado Demographics of Low Income Children)
This means that helping kids from a low socioeconomic background go to college is one of the highest value activities anyone can do to help Colorado flourish. The cycle improves as each college graduate earns more than they would have without a degree, and so does every generation after.
By reading about the current state of our economy, our education system, and how those two are intrinsically tied, you can better understand what many students are up against. And make an educated decision about where to invest your resources.
There are plenty of ways to help give less fortunate children a better chance of going to college and breaking the cycle. Here are a few:
2. Give Back to Kids by Donating to a Community-Serving Cause
Communities can share attitudes and wealth that significantly impact a child’s educational capability. For example, parents in affluent families are more likely to read to their children and emphasize the importance of education than those of low socioeconomic status. Risley and Hart showed that children from the homes of working professionals were exposed to an average of more than 1,500 words per hour than children in homes in which one or more parents was on welfare. By age 4, this rate led to a gap of nearly 32 million words heard! These behaviors have a direct impact on literacy and achievement in Kindergarten and elementary school.
Over time households that prioritize education raise children with higher income, ultimately helping lift them from impoverished communities, and then other community members can adopt the same approach to education. The cycle ensures that we need to continually work at the community level to support change. You can help by giving to:
- Colorado Children’s Campaign works at the public policy level to improve child well-being.
- Mile High United Way
- Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute
3. Give Back to Kids by Donating to a Family-Serving Cause
Sometimes the best way to change is to start small. Rather than influencing the community at large, it can be more impactful to identify specific family units or members who have a more direct impact on kids.
- The Women’s Foundation of Colorado empowers women to help their families.
- RISE Colorado works with low-income families and families of color to become change agents for educational equity.
4. Give Back to Kids by Donating to an Educational Cause
Colorado public schools are some of the lowest-funded on a per-student basis in the nation. Many who are focused on education equity can contribute to individual schools to help support their work.
For example, consider supporting a school that qualified for the National Blue Ribbon award, or the school down the street from your neighborhood. All of them can benefit from your time, talent, and treasure. Consider contacting your local school or doing service with your local PTA to make a difference.
5. Give Back to Kids by Investing Your Time
Some of the above nonprofits need more than money; they rely on people to do all the work necessary to change the lives of kids in need. This keeps their costs low while increasing their ability to positively influence Colorado.
Many of the organizations listed above have opportunities to help them make education more attainable for kids in need.
Mentoring Kids through High School and College Applications
If you’ve attended college or have a child who is on the path to/in college, think about how difficult it would have been to do so without the help (and insistence) of parents or other family/friends who had been through the process. One of the largest hurdles that kids in need face between high school and college is lack of support from adults who have been through the opaque, complicated, and often arduous process of applying for college and scholarships.
Here at Minds Matter we match volunteer mentors with kids in need. Our mentors help kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds as they manage the administrative hurdles between high school and college. You can help Minds Matter send Colorado kids to college or find other opportunities through either of the sites below.