Businesses have a duty to confront poverty in our community

A volunteer helps prepare food at Camillus House, which receives grants from Bank of America.
A volunteer helps prepare food at Camillus House, which receives grants from Bank of America. el Nuevo Herald

The new year has brought a chance to take stock of the past and plan for the future. In addition to individual and professional resolutions, it’s a good time to consider what we expect from our community and what our role is in achieving those goals. While 2018 brings with it hope, it also carries over one of South Florida’s most pervasive challenges — poverty, especially among our youngest residents.

Many might be surprised to learn just how extensive the challenge of childhood poverty is not only locally but throughout Florida. Specific to Miami-Dade County, according to the most recent United Way ALICE® report 58 percent of households are either in poverty or barely making ends meet. Additionally, a 2016 study by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research says that more than 24 percent of those under 18 in the state live at or below the statistical poverty threshold, which in 2016 was $24,339 for a family of four.

Regardless of their age, many young people don’t have access to basic needs, such as a hot meal, and lack adequate support and fundamental tools, like technology and transportation, that provide a strong framework to succeed.

We recognize that business needs must be met in order for families to advance and pull themselves out of poverty. Where do we start? For both businesses and individuals across South Florida that want to make an impact, there are several ways to do so. Many businesses, large and small, throughout our community offer employees not only volunteer opportunities but paid time off to participate in philanthropic pursuits and matching grants for those employees who donate.

Companies are also making a concerted effort to target their grants to organizations working to improve the lives of children. Camillus House and PACE Center for Girls are two organizations that aim to turn the tide. The Bank of America Neighborhood Builder® Awards have recognized their importance in Miami, providing each with $200,000 in flexible funding and offering them leadership development (for the executive director and a developing leader in the organization), a network of peer organizations across the United States and the opportunity to access capital to expand their impact in the community.

Camillus House will use its grant to expand the Camillus Youth Housing Initiative (CYHI), providing access to housing over two years for 48 youths who are homeless and/or emerging from the foster-care system. The newly retrofitted rooms will be fully furnished including cable and wifi, helping students cope with the trauma of homelessness, achieve their goals and break the chain of cyclical poverty.

In an effort to minimize the impact of risk factors, improve academic standings and reduce the chance of juvenile justice involvement, PACE Center for Girls will use its funding to enhance and grow a three-year aftercare program for girls who have transitioned out of the traditional program. The additional programming includes counseling services, career workshops, role model sessions and field trips to colleges and businesses.

There are, of course, many other nonprofits and programs in our community that are committed to changing the lives of young people who struggle with basic needs. These programs recognize the importance of having an impact on the path children take while they move through their most formative years, through improved education, financial literacy training, youth employment programs, mentoring and social support networks.

They say it takes a village. As stakeholders in the community we are all responsible for shaping South Florida’s future leaders. As we start another year and consider how we’ll improve ourselves, let’s also consider taking steps to improve the situation for our youth. Whether it be earmarking funds, volunteering with an organization or mentoring, we’ll be paving the path for a thriving economy for generations to come.

Gene Schaefer is Miami market president for Bank of America.