Monday, Jun 11, 2018
This Father’s Day, families spend time with one another, celebrating the men in their lives – fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers. However, for children in foster care, the holiday is often painful, a day of sadness due to separation from family, a day of loneliness.
For boys and young men whose fathers are not able to participate in their life, it’s crucial that they have a role model to support and guide them through life. Foster children, in particular, are the most vulnerable. Without a consistent, caring adult in their life, less than 50 percent of foster youth will graduate high school, 33 percent will become homeless and 25% will become incarcerated.
Unfortunately, many boys and young men in need of guidance and support do not have a male mentor or father figure in their life. At most nonprofits that work with disadvantaged youth, the percentage between women and men volunteers is about 80 percent women and 20 percent men. And that’s if the nonprofit is actively recruiting male volunteers. While I applaud women for stepping up and filling this need, it’s time more men step up and do what women have been doing all along – volunteer to help a child in need.
There are approximately 3,100 children in foster care throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last year, ten Bay Area organizations that advocate for foster children through the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program embarked on an online advertising campaign to recruit more male volunteers. Only 6% of the agencies volunteers were male, yet nearly 50% of the children in foster care are male. Following are excuses many men may relate to:
Excuse #1: You’re too busy with work and family obligations. The reality is that many organizations require less than 10 volunteer hours a month. Retirees, in particular, have more time to give back and could have a tremendous impact on a young man’s life. I advocate for two teenage boys and have found it one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences of my life. Recently, I attended my foster youth Victor’s high school graduation. I couldn’t be more proud.
Excuse #2: You lack the right experience. Single men or men without kids often think they lack experience to do volunteer work with children. Men, more so than women, may think if they can’t be assured they will do something well, they don’t want to do it.
Excuse #3: You don’t have the right background. Most nonprofits do not require their volunteers to have a college degree or advanced degree. Men in particular, mistakenly think they need to have experience as a parent or educator to volunteer to work with children. Young boys need male role models to help guide them through life, someone they can easily relate to and often working with someone of the same gender or sexual orientation helps bridge that gap sooner. It is particularly important For LGBTQ youth to have a mentor or advocate with whom they feel they can easily relate to and share their personal struggles.
Excuse # 4: You worry you won’t have a big impact. Many men are taught that their time is valuable and they need to apply their efforts towards making money, or engaging in projects and activities that yield a high return on investment, or ROI. Volunteering to work with a child may not seem like a high ROI activity when measuring progress on a weekly or monthly basis. Once many male volunteers take the plunge, an overwhelming majority of them will tell you that volunteering to help an underserved youth is one of the best things they’ve ever done. As a CASA volunteer, I can’t think of a better return on investment that comes from helping a foster child graduate high school, find a job, continue their education and become a healthy, productive adult.
Silicon Valley is a place of innovation, where the best and brightest minds are solving world problems, yet children languish in our own communities eager for someone to listen and help guide them through life’s every day challenges. I challenge Bay Area men to reach outside their comfort zone, to find the bandwidth and volunteer to help a child in need. Women can’t do it alone.
Adam Escoto is a former foster youth, school principal and assistant superintendent. He is currently a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley. His piece is scheduled to appear in the Mercury News between June 15th-17th, 2018.