This week, America is observing Youth 2000 Week and organizers hope that grass-roots campaigns across the country will turn their efforts to helping "vulnerable youth become socially and economically self-sufficienct members of society."
Good cause exists for concern about young people. The statistics are startling - and frightening.The three leading causes of death for young people are accidents, homicide, and suicide.
Annually, one million students drop out of school.
About one-fourth of all 14-17 year olds have alcohol abuse problems.
A million teenage girls become pregnant each year and half of them never finish high school.
One of every eight 17-year-olds is functionally illiterate.
Finally, those under age 21 account for more than half of all arrests for serious crimes.
No wonder community leaders across the country are putting special emphasis on programs and special services to keep young people away from crime and substance abuse.
Youths must be encouraged - and enabled - to stay in school and to learn, because most of the jobs created over the next 10 years will be complex and challenging. People with low skills, literacy problems and poor education will be left behind.
When that happens, many of them will turn to crime for money. Others will become dependent on social service programs. And some, in moments of despair, will destroy themselves or others.
It's not a happy picture, but it's one that is enacted every day across the country.
And while opinions vary about what to do, communities across the United States are getting involved. The departments of Labor and Health and Human Services have both put money into efforts.
In 13 states, funding is being used to develop statewide plans to help children. More than 20 cities have established a Citites in Schools Program so that high school students and their families can have access to a broad range of services through a coordinated delivery system. They are funding research and demonstration efforts to promote self-sufficiency in at-risk populations.
Churches and organizations are recognizing that an increasing number of teenagers feel disenfranchised and have lost control of and interest in their own lives and futures. Consequently, we're seeing more programs to involve young people.
Best of all, community models are being designed in which business leaders, school and government officials guarantee job opportunities for young people in exchange for a commitment to stay in school and maintain a certain academic record.
Utah is part of Region 8, along with Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Utah's state liaison with the regional administrator, David Chapa, is Jean Nielsen, director of the state's Division of Family Services.
I don't believe that we can establish programs for youth unless we do it with youth. The challenges and temptations young people face may change from generation to generation and from town to town. But one thing hasn't changed: Young people are still very much influenced by their peers.
Being a youth means facing a perpetual and sometimes painful need to "belong," to fit in with others at school, work and play. Which is why so many successful programs include teenagers in the planning, promoting and enactment of programs.
Some churches and organizations that have gotten actively involved in the Youth 2000 projects offer peer counseling systems. In others, young people visit schools to talk about some of the problems they have faced and how they overcame them - or didn't. Youths tutor each other. Sometimes the project is even more basic. Just getting at-risk youth together with other kids for community service projects and fun activities seems to help.
The best programs keep a young person challenged. They help him to fight boredom and to feel like he personally makes a difference.
But more needs to be done.