Beginning last December when my editorial encouraged everyone to “get involved and make a difference,” a small thread has tied a few columns together this year. That thread is investing in our youth as a down payment on our future. Let’s look backward and forward as we consider some ways to be involved.

In August, Barry Ashby talked about mentoring programs. His look at mentoring primarily involved the ACE program. He was encouraging our industry to participate in this or like programs as an investment in human capital. Without saying so, Ashby’s column also reflects a worldview that people are valuable, and you never know which person might be the one to discover a revolutionary technology that could benefit the world. How can you be personally or professionally involved?

There are many other types of mentoring programs for kids who need to be encouraged to work hard at staying engaged in school and life in general. Look around your community for programs offering one-on-one tutoring or mentoring. In urban areas, the Boys and Girls Clubs are a good place to start. The scouting program is another way to invest in the lives of young people. Our church offers a mentoring program for kids in schools in the inner city, and yours might offer similar opportunities to serve. Seek them out and get involved.

My September editorial discussed encouraging youth to pursue blue-collar jobs rather than pushing everyone toward college. I think we do young people a disservice by suggesting that everyone is college material. I’m sure we all know someone who dropped out of college for that reason. If we offer incentives and encouragement to pursue career training, young people will be better served, and our industry may end up reaping a benefit. Your company might consider offering a scholarship to someone planning on pursuing technical training in welding, for instance.

At a time when much of what we do professionally can be discouraging as a result of these trying economic times, investing in human capital could be just the thing from which to see results and a return on our investment(s). There are many ways for us to be involved in the lives of young people.

Did you know it is estimated that 15 million children under 18 have been orphaned worldwide as a result of AIDS? If you would like to help with this in some small way, send me an e-mail, and I can put you in touch with a personal friend (pictured) who has a house for AIDS orphans in Africa. She could put your tax-deductible financial contributions to very good use as the money goes directly to the kids. As a doctor of pharmacology, she is also working on antiretroviral drugs to treat infected people.

Did you also know that there are over 500,000 kids currently in foster care in the U.S.? Of that number, 76% are in non-relative living arrangements, 23% have a goal of adoption and the goal for 9% is long-term foster care. Do you have the heart to help “one of the least of these”? It’s a commitment and a lot of work, but there’s definitely a need for foster families and families to adopt kids from the foster system, and the rewards are great. 2010 will be the year that my family grows through adoption from our state’s foster-care system. With over 12 million foster-care alumni, consider the impact of child abuse and neglect on our nation’s next generation. How can you help?

Admittedly, this column is slightly different, but December is a different month. At this time of year more than any other, we focus on our blessings, we spend time with family and we may reflect on positive memories from our youth that have helped us be who we are.

As we consider the upcoming new year, is there a way that you can make a difference in a life or lives of those in our nation’s next generation? This doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some, it is a financial commitment. For others, it is a commitment of time, and it might be an investment of yourself in the life of one or more kids in need.

All of us at Industrial Heating offer our wishes to you for a wonderful Christmas and a fulfilling 2010. Invest in the future. IH