New Book from Rutheiser Highlights Program’s Success in Closing the Opportunity Gap

Posted July 6, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newbookfromrutheiser 2016

As a senior asso­ciate with Casey’s Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­ty and Eco­nom­ic Oppor­tu­ni­ty, Charles Rutheis­er has spent much of his career study­ing the dynam­ics of inequal­i­ty and pro­mot­ing strate­gies to help low-income chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies of col­or succeed.

It’s a pas­sion that Rutheis­er shares with his uncle, Michael Oshe­owitz, who launched an all-vol­un­teer men­tor­ship pro­gram called Spon­sors for Edu­ca­tion­al Oppor­tu­ni­ty (SEO) more than five decades ago.

While work­ing on Wall Street, my uncle came up with the idea of a men­tor­ship pro­gram that would pro­pel kids in at-risk neigh­bor­hoods to suc­ceed in col­lege and high-lev­el careers,” notes Rutheis­er. Before SEO, these same kids were receiv­ing a voca­tion­al edu­ca­tion with no view beyond high school.”

Rutheiser’s new book, The Oppor­tu­ni­ty Mak­ers: The First Half-Cen­tu­ry of Spon­sors for Edu­ca­tion­al Oppor­tu­ni­ty, chron­i­cles SEO’s his­to­ry, chal­lenges and achieve­ments. It will be avail­able through Blurb Books lat­er this sum­mer and all pro­ceeds will ben­e­fit SEO’s work.

Oshe­owitz and his vol­un­teer army orig­i­nal­ly focused on help­ing low-income minor­i­ty youth from South Bronx and Harlem excel in school. SEO has since expand­ed, includ­ing adding a career pro­gram that con­nects minor­i­ty col­lege stu­dents with jobs in major finan­cial insti­tu­tions, law firms and For­tune 500 com­pa­nies as well as in gov­ern­ment ser­vice and the non­prof­it sector.

Over time, the organization’s alum­ni base has swelled to more than 11,000 men and women. Today, SEO’s suc­cess­es have a lot to con­tribute to the nation­al con­ver­sa­tion about clos­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty gap,” says Rutheiser.

In research­ing for The Oppor­tu­ni­ty Mak­ers, Rutheis­er dis­cov­ered that many of his col­leagues — includ­ing Casey’s own Vice Pres­i­dent of Exter­nal Affairs Lisa Hamil­ton — are grad­u­ates of SEO. The pro­gram has helped cre­ate a gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness peo­ple and non­prof­it lead­ers imbued with the spir­it of giv­ing back,” he says.

And though SEO has gar­nered rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle fan­fare to date, Rutheis­er is keen to give cred­it where it is long over­due. His book traces how SEO has evolved to shape last­ing path­ways to suc­cess for youth fac­ing bar­ri­ers to progress,” says Angela Glover Black­well, pres­i­dent and CEO of PolicyLink.

Such work isn’t just time­ly — it’s crit­i­cal. As the pro­por­tion of minori­ties in Amer­i­ca con­tin­ues to grow, ris­ing inequal­i­ty and the lack of mobil­i­ty for low-income com­mu­ni­ties of col­or dras­ti­cal­ly chal­lenge our notion of being the land of oppor­tu­ni­ty,” explains Blackwell.

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