Are We a Product of OUR ENVIRONMENT or of OUR OPPORTUNITIES?

Monday, May 19, 2014

By Karen Napier
Last week I attended the United Way Worldwide Community Leaders Conference in Washington, DC.  The event was filled with presentations and sessions on how we as a community can work together to create community-wide change in education, income and health. The event was truly an inspiring culmination of ideas and passion.

At the closing session all 1,500 of the participants received a special message from Wes Moore, a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, social entrepreneur and host of Beyond Belief on the Oprah Winfrey Network. And now author of his first book The Other Wes Moore.

Wes’ message was simple and clear:  WE ARE A PRODUCT OF OUR OPPORTUNITIES.
We as individuals make choices everyday based on what we have come to know through the opportunities we have had in our lives. 

Let me explain.  As children we learn through the examples of our parents and others around us.  We soak up information like a sponge.  Sometimes we put this information into practice immediately and sometimes we store it for later use. Our parents or adults in our life guide us to make choices, the right choices as we learn to navigate our environment. 

So environment? Or opportunity? 

We know that some children regardless of their environment will succeed and others will not.  Some will say it is their internal grit or resiliency that helps them achieve success.  I say it is both their grit and what they have soaked up through their opportunities and experiences.  Children today live in a different world, a world of being constantly inundated with information from multiple sources.

Opportunities for our children to learn and experience new things need to be rich with content, rich with hands-on exposure, and rich with relevance to their lives. We as a nation can no longer expect our children to sit obediently while the teacher lectures from the front of the classroom. Classrooms need to be in the moment, online, outside, night or day.  And this opportunity needs to be available for EVERY CHILD, the opportunity to be who they aspire to be.


I hope that we have given this opportunity to the high school class of 2014. I wish for them experiences that continue their growth.   And most of all I wish for them an abundance of opportunities as they start this next step. Whether their steps lead them to college, a job, or the armed forces let’s join together to help them reach their dreams.  Be that adult that gives our children the opportunity that they will soak up like a sponge.

Congratulations to all the 2014 graduates!



Karen E. Napier is the Director of High School Graduation Initiatives at Metro United Way in Louisville, Kentucky. Karen and her team work closely with community-based agencies to provide technical assistance and other resources to agencies that can help youth graduate from high school on time ready for college, work and life.  

Karen has over 25 years experience working in the non-profit arena and working with local and state governments. She holds a Masters of Arts from Kent State University and her Bachelors Degree from Purdue University. Prior to coming to Metro United Way, Karen worked closely with First Lady, Jane Beshear and the Governor’s Office on the Graduate Kentucky Initiative.  Karen is very involved in the community and she serves on various boards and advisory groups. 

Karen is a proud daughter, wife, mother and grandmother. Her and her husband enjoy their family and have a love for animals. They presently have 7 dogs and 6 cats which they have adopted or pickup along the road.

You can reach Karen at karen.napier@metrounitedway.org or Twitter: @kenapier

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