Opinion Columns & Blogs

Millennials prove critics wrong with public service work

Too many of us baby boomers, so self-satisfied about the trails we supposedly blazed, look down our noses at the millennials, the “me generation,” or as Time magazine dubbed them, the “me me me generation.”

“What millennials are most famous for besides narcissism is its effect: entitlement,” Joel Stein wrote in Time in May.

But spend a little time over at Friendship Park as I did a few months ago, and you’ll probably meet Molly Simones, a 26-year-old Wisconsin native whose first job out of college is to work at the Loaves & Fishes homeless shelter.

Molly spoke truth to power by calling our newsroom to shine light on the outrageous story of the mentally ill man who had been bused to Sacramento by the state of Nevada’s psychiatric hospital, Rawson-Neal in Las Vegas.

Her call led to stories in The Bee and investigations by the feds and other agencies and promises by Nevada to improve. The people of Nevada, especially people who suffer from mental illness, will be better for what she did.

The Y Generation includes its brilliant entrepreneurs. Mark Zuckerberg, 29, is one. Many more are like Molly Simones, who feel compelled to do good.

“I find it just wrong,” Simones said of the stereotype of her generation. “I see a lot of my peers doing good things for no money.”

Knowing three Y Generation adults well and a few of their friends, I find they tutor kids in the Tenderloin and teach moot court to high school students, care about wildlife and work for a homeless women and children’s shelter in Sacramento, and have jobs pushing major corporations to care about workers’ rights and to be more socially and environmentally responsible.

Smart politicians know that they need to engage young people. That’s why Gov. Jerry Brown spent so much time on college campuses last year pushing for passage of his initiative to raise taxes.

Dan Schnur, the former Republican operative and USC politics teacher who is planning to run for secretary of state, told me his experience teaching shows that kids these days care deeply about civic engagement and volunteering. He is devising a campaign strategy that in part will test that theory, but also seek to engage young people should he win.

Indeed, Millennial Impact Project, produced by consulting firms Achieve, and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, found that 73 percent of millennials volunteered for a nonprofit in 2012. Almost 83 percent gave a financial gift to an organization.

Of course, millennials have problems. Poverty and drug abuse afflicts too many of them. They faced a dreadful job market, as a result of the 2008 crash brought about by the greed of too many of their elders. Student debt of $40,000 or $140,000 would limit the options of any 20-something.

Joel Stein ultimately acknowledged that the millennials “could be a great force for positive change.” But he was damning with faint praise. Some are doing far better than we boomers ever did. If you have any doubt, head over to Friendship Park one day.