Stepping out of the Mount Vernon Square Metro station, crowds of young people were greeted by a large sign: “This way to your future.” Volunteers in bright blue shirts emblazoned with “How can I help?” lined the hallways of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Beneath a huge welcome banner, block letters spelled out “#startsomewhere” – a brand of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon of September 20, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative hosted its flagship Opportunity Fair & Forum to the District. Taking into account the event’s participants, companies, and atmosphere, it was notably different from its analogues at Georgetown.
First, the participants: approximately 6,800 D.C. “Opportunity Youths” – those out of school and unemployed – registered to attend. More than 30 employers met with these youth and offered on-the-spot interviews and numerous resources for help along the way. Deloitte was conspicuously absent, as was Goldman. In their place were Starbucks, Hilton, Safeway, and dozens of others.
Camille Hymes, a regional Starbucks Vice President, said of the fair, “It is the most inspirational day that I’ll never forget.”
The “Creating My Successful Future” section of the fair housed diverse resources including Martha’s Table, Metro, and Sasha Bruce Youthworks. For homeless youth to find employment, “what they need most of is clothes,” said Diamond Miles, staffing the Sasha Bruce table at the fair. Fortunately, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Goodwill provided loaner clothes and professional styling tips.
Volunteers floating around the floor cheered on the young people in attendance and offered support and advice. In the case of homeless youth, simply reaching out is a huge part of the battle. “I work with youth who just want to feel important, like they’re somebody – they want people to know they’re there,” Miles explained.
The organizers did their best to make these youth feel important. Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, former Attorney General Eric Holder, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and others mingled with attendees on the floor.