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Denzel Washington is helping to launch “Be Great, Graduate” — an initiative from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to increase graduation rates among troubled or at-risk youth.

The high school drop-out rate is low across the country, but organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs work to lower those rates. Alumni of the Clubs graduate or get GED equivalencies at a rate of 90 percent, as compared to 70 percent of high schoolers nationwide. The numbers are most grave in the black and Latino community – nearly 1 in 2 black and Latino boys drops out before graduation, although some do go on to get a GED equivalency.

The reason for the Clubs’ success isn’t hard to see. “The people there are very supporting and welcoming,” says Mona Dixon, the 2010 National Youth of the Year, a prestigious scholar boasting a 3.92 GPA and a No. 3 ranking in her graduating class. “Just being around a lot of other youth who are also very motivated and determined to do something and be successful helps me a lot.”

The Clubs offer a safe, stable place to work for the kids who come through there. Mona recounts a life of uncertainty, bouncing from home to homeless schelter. “When I was hungry, I knew I could always go there and have a plate. They gave me a family.”

Denzel is the official spokesperson for the Clubs, and his childhood experience in the Mt. Vernon Boys Club is prominently featured in their recent ad campaign. Starting as a member at age 6, by 13 he was a counselor, and hails the Club in laying the foundation for his success as an adult. Many prominent leaders in sports, politics, and business, as well as everyday heroes like teachers, can trace their self-determination and self-confidence back to afternoons and weekends spent playing and doing homework at the Boys and Girls Clubs.

At the Congressional breakfast launching the new program, Denzel and Mona addressed the need to support the steady, positive impact on communities that organizations like the Clubs make every day. “‘A thousand planes land a day and never make the news, but if one plane crashes, that makes the news.’ There’s so many positive stories — so many planes that have landed safely — we’re here to celebrate what can be done, what ought to be done, and what will be done.”

Denzel calls on everyone to play a part. “If each one of us just volunteered an hour a week, imagine the good that we could do. We can’t wait for someone else to do it, we have to step up and do it ourselves.”

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