Scientists have been able to tell us many things about the origins of the universe by studying the light from distant stars. These observations are, in effect, reading messages from the past. Conversely, concerned persons in our community have observed disturbing patterns among our youth that presage vexing situations for Dane County. They are reading messages from the future.
This week's cover story, "Reaching for a Future" by Esty Dinur, deciphers some of these messages and identifies looming problems. Happily, it also identifies successful strategies to combat the effects of these disturbing trends.
Among those sounding the alarm are former Dane County Executive Jonathan Barry and former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. From their present perches in the private sector, they have independently recognized a disconnect between an aging generation about to exit the workforce and a youthful cohort that will be having trouble getting into that workforce. They aren't the only ones. Leaders of certain industries perceive the threat to their enterprises of a work pool bereft of young, prepared replacements.
Other segments of the community are also aware of the challenges. Among them is the United Way of Dane County. In 2006, the UW Vision Council - the congregation of volunteers that manages community oversight of United Way operations - heard a series of presentations at monthly meetings devoted to the problems of youth. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Vision Council and chair of the United Way's Agency and Volunteer Development Community Solution Team.) Representatives from Dane County Human Services and Youth Services, the school board, law enforcement, business leaders and active citizens, including Soglin and Barry, were all heard from.
In March 2007, the United Way will launch the Delegation on Disconnected and Violent Youth, co-chaired by University of Wisconsin Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazell and First Business Financial Services CEO Corey Chambas. The group's membership will include representatives of growing industries that will rely on the coming generation to people their workforce. The delegation is charged with determining the course of United Way programs to address youth problems and will report its recommendations in November.