At a time when our nation's biggest challenge is the growing gap between the protected wealthy few and everyone else, we urge financially blessed Oaklanders and Piedmonters to redouble their efforts to invest in our underserved Oakland urban youth.

Yes, Piedmonters have a long and impressive history of generosity to urban Oakland -- let's keep it going.

Recently, we approached local nonprofit Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation with our passion for investing in Oakland youth. Working with the Friends, we developed a five-year, $100,000 youth investment program called the Thompson-Bliss Family Gift -- $20,000 per year for five years -- all going toward Oakland's efficient but underfunded Office of Parks and Recreation.

A large portion of our investment provides learn-to-swim scholarships to Oakland children who otherwise could not afford to learn to swim. Parents can fill out a form requesting a swim lesson scholarship. Upon approval, the lessons are scheduled with eight sessions of instruction over two weeks for beginning swimmers to gain basic safety competence.

Oakland's five pools have a long history of excellent aquatic programming and instruction, and our goal is that every child in Oakland learns to swim.

It is critical for each child's personal safety and self-confidence and, unfortunately, one of our challenges is that many parents do not know how to swim.

The lessons are conducted at all of the city's pools including the beautiful new instructional pool at the East Oakland Sports Center. This summer, 60 Oakland kids took swim lessons through this program.

The other portion of our investment goes to a competitive grant program for our city's recreation centers, which provide vital services to our youth.

This year, one grant provided critical matching funding to an amazing effort led by the Good Tidings Foundation, with help from the Golden State Warriors and Oakland Office of Parks and Recreation. This effort reconstructed two now-beautiful basketball courts at deFremery Park in West Oakland.

At the opening several weeks ago, we got to sit next to Golden State Warrior center Festus Ezeli and Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney during the grand opening.

There are many outstanding opportunities to invest locally including Friends, the Boys and Girls Club, or even the PTA at an underserved public school.

For us, it is important that our contribution goes directly and rapidly to youth with strong financial oversight and operational efficiency. Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation and the city's Office of Parks and Recreation have achieved this.

Instead of giving $50 or $100 to a local charity that you are passionate about, consider giving $1,000 or $5,000 or more, or committing to at least 40 hours this year as a volunteer.

The joy our family felt seeing more than 100 young boys and girls playing on the new basketball courts in gritty West Oakland is something we will never forget -- certainly well worth our investment, especially knowing that going forward, these courts will provide joy and opportunities for constructive growth and recreation for our young people.

You will get a huge bang for your buck. We are ordinary people just like you. It is time to invest in our Oakland youth.

We need an army of mini-philanthropists. No more complaining. We are on the front lines. This isn't the suburbs. You can make a huge difference here in Oakland.

John Bliss and Kim Thompson, and their two teenagers, live in Oakland.