Connecting kids to the future

By Mary Teresa Bitti

At an early age, Charles Hiteshew understood that your zip code could either open you up to opportunity or shut you out.

Now, as the new chief operating officer for America’s Promise–The Alliance for Youth, he aims to level the playing field for U.S. children by connecting them to critical people and resources, regardless of where they live.

Growing up on the “lower rungs of an upper-middle-class neighborhood” in Pittsburgh, Hiteshew says he was sensitive to the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

His high school was famous for recruiting top athletes from all over the city, he says, and as a baseball and football player, he befriended many of his fellow team members.

“Through that connection I became immersed in their community, which I saw right away was vastly different from the one I knew,” says Hiteshew.  “By no doing of their own, their life chances were limited.”

As a college student, his early and visceral understanding of social-welfare disparity took on an academic dimension that would lead to a career in the nonprofit sector built on helping kids.

From his first job as a street counselor with Bridge over Troubled Waters in Boston, to managing the investment portfolio of the DC Education Compact in order to better public schools in Washington, D.C., each successive role has groomed him for his next assignment.

And as he joins America’s Promise, he says, there was no master plan, other than a passion for kids.

“I just followed what I knew I wanted to do,” he says. “And I’m happy to say it’s all turned into a wonderful career.”

Hiteshew and America’s Promise share the conviction that every child deserves a chance to succeed.

The organization was founded in 1997, after the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future challenged the nation to make children and youth a national priority.

America’s Promise has since joined forces with more than 400 organizations, including the United Way, Communities in Schools, Junior Achievement and Big Brothers, Big Sisters to help ensure America’s children have access to critical resources.

Charles Hiteshew

Job: Chief operating officer, America’s Promise-The Alliance for Youth

Born: Pittsburgh, April 28, 1962

Family: Wife, Suzan Murray, chief veterinarian, National Zoo; three children

Education: B.A., American studies, Amherst College; master’s, human services management, The Heller School, Brandeis University

Hobbies: Fishing, canoeing, spending time with kids: “With an eight-year-old and twin five-year-olds, that’s a full-time job.”

Inspiration: “Every time I’m with a young person I realize their inherent value and potential.  I was most in my element 20 years ago when I was hanging out in the street with young people. I never felt more at home.”

Heroes: Malcolm X; Bruce Springsteen: “He probably represents the sentiments and the commitments and the convictions about social welfare in the U.S. better than any artist I know of.”

That strategy hinges on five promises, which include making sure kids have caring adults in their lives and safe places with structured activities in which to learn and grow.They also need access to health care, an education that equips them with marketable skills, and an opportunity to give back to their communities.As chief operating officer, it falls to Hiteshew to help America’s Promise better the lives of more than 15 million young people across the U.S. by keeping those five promises.

He hopes to accomplish that by securing commitments from current and new partners and communities to reach more children and youth, he says.

By bringing together all sectors to coordinate services, he says, it should be possible to have a greater impact on kids, with accountability measures that ensure better outcomes.

To do that, the organization has created a few focused initiatives, including Katrina’s Kids, which focuses on providing services to the 500,000 young people displaced by the hurricane.

Another program, called Every Child, Every Promise, will track outcomes and measure the presence of the five promises in young people’s lives.

And 100 Best Communities for Young People is a program that recognizes and shares the best practices of communities doing things right for kids.

“We want to raise awareness about the status of children in America,” says Hiteshew. “We want to make a difference in their lives.”

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