What does Opportunity look like?

When people talk about the lower class vs the middle and upper classes the discussion always seems to be missing one thing… They talk about the differences in housing, in being able to pay bills, access food, education and skills. They talk about hard workers and those who sacrifice to get ahead. They talk about generational wealth as being the largest barrier for those in the lower classes. There is one thing I don’t see them talking about though. The one thing the money actually buys them, and that is opportunity.

If you really look at the lives of the rich vs the lives of the poor, opportunity has more to do with where they are in life than any other factor. Those with money are able to give their children more opportunities. Opportunity to learn to play an instrument. Opportunity to hire a tutor if their youth is struggling in school. Opportunity to participate in top level sports competition. Opportunity to experience different places and cultures. Opportunity to go to museums, zoo, and other learning sites. Opportunity to go to college, start a business, or go into a trade apprenticeship. Opportunity to participate in swimming, nature programs, robotics/ computer workshops, writing classes, gymnastics, dance, theater, and any other extra-curricular you can think of.

Money buys opportunity. Opportunity is what will determine if we get ahead in life. Some may be saying “Hey wait, hard work and determination determines success!”. Let’s be honest, without someone giving you a shot in the first place or just lucky enough to be the right moment/ place, your chance of success is slim to none.

Let’s look at an example: Two High School Graduates are applying for an internship with you. The information you have to go on is this:

  1. Candidate A: GPA 3.8, wrote for the school newspaper, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity last summer, served food at the homeless shelter once a month, played soccer on a travel team, and took piano lessons.
  2. Candidate B: GPA 3.8, played baseball for their school team, and worked at McDonald’s 3 days a week.

Be honest, which are you most likely to pick? Any smart business person would pick A if having to base the decision solely on this information. Candidate A has a wider range of experiences which they should have gained skills at, and seems to be very determined and good time-management skills. All of these require a certain amount of money to be able to do. Volunteer work does have costs associated with it both directly and in-directly. Thus money creates opportunity. Opportunity allows us to get ahead.

Now lets talk about behavior, social skills, and self care. Those with limited money don’t generally focus on stylish clothing. They may experience difficulty in just being able to wash the clothing they do have. They don’t have the newest electronics and games. Generally they don’t have many meaningful social experiences except with others in the same class as themselves. The times they may have them (like at schools they get shipped out of their area to go to) are generally not positive experiences. They get bullied for not having these things and not being able to participate in certain activities. They are surrounded by people who are stressed out and worried about meeting basic needs, and the youth are experiencing it with them. They experience the same longing and eventual jealousy of those who have the money to take advantage of all the opportunities out there.

Imagine if these youth were able to access all those opportunities that middle and upper class youth have. What if money didn’t have to be that barrier? What if they could fill up their minds with knowledge, gain new skills, and interact with people across all spectrums? What if they could experience a variety of careers? What if they had the same type of support system that the upper classes have? What if they could invest in their passions and be shown how they could turn that into their career? What if…

I can actually begin to answer that particular question… What if?

I am seeing, right now, what it can do through the youth in the SSYZ.

We hear all the time how everyone is so impressed with our youth and how thirsty they appear for the knowledge being given to them. They question things, and they want to really understand the “why and how”.

These youth face a variety of challenges. Every single one of them lives in the poorest neighborhood in Evansville. Each one of them has faced some type of bullying. There are a variety of family dynamics at play. Money is always a concern at some level. Yet the moment they have an opportunity presented to them that they normally would not get, they dive full in. These youth do not lack in determination, intelligence, or character. What they lack is money. Lack of money equates to lack of opportunity. Lack of opportunity is what stifles their growth and potential.

This is one thing I am most proud of in our Youth Zone (besides our kids!). We are able to bring in all these wonderful opportunities, that align with the passions and goals of our youth, through collaboration. We are able to bring in things like robotics/ coding, theater/ movie making, health and wellness, art, music, and financial education to name just a few, because we collaborate with local organizations/ businesses that can fill that opportunity gap. Through these opportunities the youth are growing, learning, and becoming even more determined. They are highly engaged, always willing to try something new, and are expanding their views. These youth are going to do amazing things in their lives. All because they have been given the right opportunities and support.

Now imagine if we could do the same thing for more kids? Imagine if this is how we started looking at impoverished areas and the people who live there? Through the eyes of opportunity. Welcome to the heart of the Youth Zone!

About the author: Lisa Barnett