RECAP - CCRY Hill Briefing, "Recommitting to Our Nation’s Youth: Building on the Legacy of Youth Opportunity"
A recent Capitol Hill briefing, Recommitting to Our Nation's Youth: Building on the Legacy of Youth Opportunity, highlighted how the federal Youth Opportunity Grant Program (YO) helped get disconnected youth back on track.
|"When I entered the program at the age of 20 years old I was at a crossroads, joining the program or hanging on the street corner, I choose the program. I learned many life skills as well as job readiness training when I entered the program,"- Kendrick Campbell, Youth Opportunity program participant.|
The CCRY Network, a CLASP-led initiative to engage partnerships among local youth-serving systems to improve young people's opportunities and well-being, the Campaign for Youth, First Focus, the National Youth Employment Coalition and Sen. Debbie Stabenow's office co-sponsored the briefing.
The event showcased the effect YO had in Baltimore, Md., Hartford, Conn., rural Arkansas, Alaska, and California. Several youth from these disparate communities testified about how YO helped teach them life and job readiness skills. The audience was a standing room only crowd of congressional staffers, federal agency representatives, advocates, and policy groups. Most importantly, it brought visibility to the challenge of reconnecting disconnected youth, the community level accomplishments, and the need for increased federal investment.
The panel of speakers - Bob Rath (Hartford), Ernest Dorsey (Baltimore), Toyce Newton (rural Arkansas), Dr. M.J. Longley (Alaska, Cook Inlet Tribal Council), Lorenda Sanchez (California Indian Manpower Consortium) and Jack Kresnak (Michigan's Children), conveyed the challenge and the accomplishments of our 10 years of efforts.
YO graduates Sharon Jackson, Kendrick Campbell, Special Sanders, and Madeline Vasquez told compelling stories of YOs impact on their lives.
Mr. Rath discussed the economic impact dropouts are having in Connecticut and nationally. "In Connecticut the lifetime contributions, to the economy, for each dropout is $-103,000 dollars, while the lifetime contributions for high school graduates is $400,000. The national average for the cost of High School dropouts to the economy is $300,000." Mr. Rath also discussed how YO funding allowed his organization, Our Piece of the Pie, to establish strategies to reengage dropouts and create the Pathways to Success Program, which continues to provide successful outcomes for youth and helps keep Hartford youth in school.
Madeline Vasquez, a YO participant from Hartford, Connecticut, testified about her experiences : "As a YO student, I was able to be a part of the Congressional Hispanic Institute as a fellow where I worked in the office of Senator Christopher Dodd," she said. "I spent more than a year with Senator Harry Reid. I mean who would have said a girl from the Hartford urban area would end up in D.C."
"The large investment of funds provided by Youth Opportunity allowed communities to develop innovative approaches and engage youth in long-term and comprehensive programming - helping young people reconnect to school and work, often earning high school diplomas and enrolling in institutions of higher education"-- Ernest Dorsey, Baltimore, Maryland.
Baltimore has been able to sustain the services of YO since its inception ten years ago. Ernest Dorsey, Director of Baltimore Youth Opportunity, spoke about the opportunity YO provided for Baltimore to collaborate with community organizations, employers, community colleges, and public schools. Mr. Dorsey said the collaborations helped identify gaps and form plans that adequately served out-of-school and disconnected youth, helping many of the youth Baltimore served navigate through many systems for education and the workforce.
Toyce Newton, President and CEO of Phoenix Youth and Family Services along with YO alum Special Sanders and Kendal Campbell, discussed how YO programs and others like it in Southeast rural Arkansas can create and develop strong partnerships with agencies to deliver services to youth. Mr. Newton attributed the closing of the Dermott Juvenile Detention Center in rural Southeast Arkansas to YO. "To me, YO was an opportunity, it was a program that really opened up my geographic area," Ms. Sanders said. "I was able to reach my long-term goal of attending college."
M.J. Longley and Lorenda Sanchez discussed the shortcomings and issues Native American Students face. They said that lack of resources, too few employment opportunities, and geographic isolation contribute to increased risk factors for this population. YO gave 23 tribal communities in California and 40 tribal villages in Southwest Alaska a system of services and support. These services included providing job opportunities for youth by developing community service projects, establishing wellness and prevention activities, fostering leadership skills, and providing resources to aide in the completion of their education.
The final speaker was Jack Kresnak, President and CEO of Michigan's Children. Mr. Kresnak's presentation highlighted the struggles youth face with education, employment and poverty. Mr. Kresnak provided statistics on dropout rates and teenage pregnancy, further conveying how urgently resources are needed to address the struggles faced by some youth. Mr. Kresnak commended Michigan's Governors Association, the state Legislature, U.S. Reps. Dale Kildee, Vern Ehlers, the Mott Foundation, and Sen. Stabenow, for building a better K-12 education in Michigan. He also thanked Congress for being leaders in providing Federal funding for programs like YO in struggling states.
Bob Rath closed the event with the CCRY's set of recommendations for legislative consideration. The recommendations were:
- Jobs Legislation and other Obama Administration proposals, including the Community College initiative and DOL's Youth Innovations fund should take into consideration the successes and the best practices of the YO programs and incorporate key program elements for working with disconnected youth going forward;
- Systems designed to serve youth should include: saturation, cross-systems collaboration, strong case management, and a robust jobs and paid work experience feature; and
- Better use of reports, data, and evaluations on what works to better inform legislatures and efforts that support youth.