American society fails too many of its young people, especially its teens. Born with potential and filled with dreams, many of our youth do not achieve all of which they are capable because they have neither the support system to nurture those dreams nor the opportunity to pursue them. As a result, many of our young people succumb to the expectations of others; they believe that a college education is beyond their reach or worse, they drop out of school for the short-term reward of work, or fall victim to the lure of a risk-filled lifestyle.

The C5 Youth Program was created to address this critical issue. Our communities require engaged citizens and committed leaders and our businesses need qualified employees prepared with appropriate skills and character, yet 30% of our youth do not even graduate from high school, making it impossible for them to fill these needs and difficult to make a positive contribution to society.

  • Of youth in the bottom income quartile, 69% graduate from high school while 93% from the top income quartile graduate from high school.**
  • 40% of low income teens enroll in college, versus 81% of high income teens.**
  • Only 12% of low income youth will earn a four year degree by age 24 versus 73% of high income students. ** 
  • Adults who have a bachelor's degree or higher will have twice the annual median income of individuals with only a high school diploma (National Center For Education Statistics).

Our public education system receives much of the blame for the many young people who fail to graduate and become productive citizens. Our government is trying to address this issue with the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives, and countless other organizations and foundations are investing millions of dollars in various initiatives to improve our schools. As successful as these initiatives might be — and the jury is still out — most are based on the assumption that the key to improving youth outcomes is to fix our schools.

We believe that the issue of addressing under-achieving youth requires us to get out of the box, both figuratively and literally. The reason many young people fail is not because of what happens — or doesn’t happen — in school. We need to consider what is happening outside of the box, outside of the school and classroom, to begin to understand the issue and the opportunity. Young people are impacted by everything in their lives and affected by everything that is missing from their lives. Too many of our youth grow up in environments with limited support and few opportunities, unable to develop a positive vision for their future.

C5 provides our young people with these supports and opportunities, helping them envision a future worth investing in. And even more importantly, C5 gives them the skills and confidence with which to pursue their vision.


One of the most difficult tasks involved in operating a program such as C5 is selecting the youth who will participate — not because there are so few young people who would benefit from it, but because there are so many. Our selection process is targeted and intensive, designed to select a diverse group of young people who will benefit from our intensive and ongoing leadership development program. Through our nominating partners in each city — middle schools and youth-serving organizations — we receive applications from approximately 200 high-potential seventh grade students who demonstrate a desire to succeed, maintain a B (+ or -) average and possess some leadership skills. They have also been identified as having multiple risk factors in their lives that make success more difficult — poverty, single-parent or no-parent home, prevalence of drugs and/or gangs in their neighborhoods, etc. Through a rigorous application and interview process, each site selects and enrolls 72 rising eighth graders each year.