Mary-Pat Hector was 13 years old when she decided she had to do something to stop the gun violence that was riddling her Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood.
“She was determined to generate awareness for the issue and caught the attention of supporters who enabled her to develop a billboard campaign in Atlanta to help spread the word about the violence epidemic,” said Laura Freveletti, senior program officer of The Allstate Foundation’s Good Starts Young program.
“I wanted to create billboards so people could see themselves, see it happening to them,” Hector said, who was able to erect 50 billboards across the city of Atlanta to not only shine a spotlight on the problem of gun violence, but encourage people to look at the issue with fresh eyes.
Now a sophomore in college, Hector has created a nonprofit to publicize the issue further. She also ran for local office, becoming one of the youngest candidates to run in Atlanta’s history. Although she didn’t win the election, Freveletti said, Hector hasn’t slowed down one bit.
“She continues her pursuit of raising awareness and encouraging others to speak out about violence and violence-reduction methods,” Freveletti said.
To help with her goal, The Allstate Foundation awarded Hector’s nonprofit $10,000 to continue her work – both in Atlanta and in other cities plagued by violence in the U.S.
“Her accomplishment as a teenager is a prime example of what can happen when youth are empowered to lead, are given tools and resources, and use their influence to make a positive difference in their communities,” said Freveletti. The goal of The Allstate Foundation’s Good Starts Young program is to inspire the next generation of leaders and develop their social and emotional learning skills, which are things like resilience and grit, self-awareness and self-management, and teamwork and conflict resolution.
Research shows that for a young person to succeed in life, social and emotional learning skills are as – if not even more important – than academic achievement. With these skills, youth are empowered to succeed and become our future leaders.
Freveletti says one of the reasons for the program’s ongoing success is its ability to network with organizations with similar goals. Organizations like WE Charity, which helps to empower youth through rallies, educational forums, and volunteerism have been instrumental in equipping kids with the learning tools that researchers have found are critical to their success.
“We underwrite rallies and educational forums to provide inspiration and instruction with a dose of fun for young people,” said Freveletti. The Allstate Foundation has found that storytelling can be a powerful vehicle for lifting spirits and building courage.
“We tell stories about youth who are challenging inequity and solving issues in their schools and communities across the country; stories about students who have stepped up to take part in rebuilding their community, and are addressing bullying, homelessness, and food scarcity. We try to amplify these stories to show the good work youth are doing in the world and inspire other young people to do that work as well,” said Freveletti.
In doing so, The Allstate Foundation and its partners are building a platform for service-learning and social and emotional learning skills. Programs like WE Volunteer Now teach kids the value of being part of, and making a positive impact on, their community while equipping them with skills to be successful in life.
The Allstate Foundation also partners with the Collaborative Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL), which is a resource for school districts, principals and administrators throughout the country to ensure that social and emotional learning is factored into curriculum guidelines, classroom activities and school culture.
“Research and best practice shows that the combination of volunteer service and development of social and emotional learning skills enhances the likelihood for youth to succeed in the future,” Freveletti said.
For high school graduation and entrance to college, many students need real volunteering experience. Volunteering allows young people to meet new people, experience new cultures, find new friends, make connections and build references, which is so important. We know that volunteering lets them gain new skills and build confidence. It allows them to stretch their current perspectives in new environments.”
Later this fall, The Allstate Foundation embarks on another phase of its work, said Freveletti, with a national campaign to highlight the importance of social and emotional learning for youth. They will be launching the campaign at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “Our goal is to get families talking about the importance of these skills in helping youth realize their goals in life.”
Dovetailing with that effort will be CASEL’s first international conference on social and emotional learning in 2019, which The Allstate Foundation is helping to launch. “We are really excited about being the engine that allows this valuable information sharing and collaboration to take place and to get families and schools to start taking action to ensure youth build these life-enhancing skills,” said Freveletti.
“We set a goal to engage 25 percent of young people (ages 10-18) in The Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young-supported programs that develop social and emotional learning skills in the U.S.in the next few years,” she said. “We’d like to see schools and communities across the U.S. increase access to social and emotional learning resources before, during and after school.”
The Allstate Foundation hopes to meet that goal by 2021, eight short years since it launched the initiative.
Image of Mary-Pat Hector courtesy of The Allstate Foundation.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.