Hundreds of youth, service providers and community members turned out for the Northeast Opportunity Youth conference in Hartford – sharing inspiration, resources, and stories and best practices.
Sponsored by State Rep. Toni Walker at the Legislative Office Building, the event highlighted work in Boston, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia and Portland, Maine addressing the needs of Opportunity Youth—at-risk young people ages 18 to 24 not actively engaged in school or the workforce. The programs, including the Hartford Opportunity Youth Collaborative, are united in partnership as the Y.E.S. Project, a national initiative of America’s Promise.
“In supporting Opportunity Youth in the fullest way we will also have the greatest impact on gaining full youth employment,” said Alex Johnson, president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners. “With over 4,000 of Hartford’s young people considered OY, the issues facing them are too big for a single organization to handle alone. This has been one of my highest priorities and CWP is excited to lead the convening of groups from around Connecticut and Northeastern cities to support this goal.”
The Hartford Opportunity Youth Collaborative (HOYC) is a cross-sector collaborative, chaired by Mayor Luke Bronin, working to engage organizations and systems throughout Hartford to address the needs of youth. HOYC and its member organizations embrace collective impact, joining together to make change, and support career pathways, youth leadership and data collaboration — leading youth to post-secondary success.
“My hope is that we can have a coalition that will build a vibrant and inclusive economy so there will be a job available for every young person who wants to work and be a productive member of our society. This is critical, particularly for our urban areas, where we have high levels of youth employment,” said Rep. Walker (D-New Haven.) “It is imperative that we work to provide job opportunities for our children, especially in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, IT and other sectors, so they can succeed and help ensure the future of Connecticut.”
America’s Promise project design is grounded in research, and in listening to youth from around the country, said CEO & President John Gromerts. The result is a clear focus of effective preparation for youth employment, and a practice of involving youth.
Other speakers included employers, youth leaders, lawmakers, and partners, with breakout sessions exploring each city’s work. Facilitators were Juan Colon and Aleena Durant, youth participants in Hartford’s Our Piece of the Pie (OPP) leadership program.
“This is a youth-led leadership conference here today,” said Jim Boucher of Capital Workforce Partners, the backbone organization for the Hartford Opportunity Youth Collaborative, and another event sponsor. “We are all here to learn from each other.”
“Our youth are leaders, not observers,” said Hartford’s Vicki Gallon-Clark, speaking of her work with the Blue Hills Civic Association. “We are working with them to be accountable; they are expected to know how a law is made, they come here to the LOB and testify.” Each youth is assigned a Success Coach, she added, who works with the entire family, making sure “we are all speaking the same language” in support of the youth.
“It takes time,” added Paulette Cox, of New Britain’s OIC. “It is a lifetime transformation.”
Breakout sessions at the conference included:
A review of the Boston Launch Program, which supports the young adults of Boston, helping them go back to school, find long-term work, and pursue fulfilling careers. Launch connects young people to educational services designed to get them back on the road to college, as well as individualized career coaching to identify where they can best use their skills and experience. The presentation includes an overview of the model, a specific focus on on-ramps, training and career track employment – including the supportive coaching model. Click here for more information.
JobsFirstNYC, which leverages all available community, corporate, human, organization, private and public resources to bring out-of-school and out-of-work young adults into the economic life of New York City. JobsFirstNYC presented on “Transfer 2 Career Collaborative: A Pilot to Reimagine the School-to-Career Transition.” Click here for more information.
The Philadelphia Youth Network works to create coordinated systems that promote the attainment of academic achievement, economic opportunity, and personal success. Maintaining an ecosystem of diverse options is critical to creating a coordinated career pathway system. For 20 years the Philadelphia Youth Network has collaborated with key stakeholders to develop and sustain multiple pathways for opportunity youth. The PYN Career Development Framework organizes many strategies into a comprehensive system of services that support the skill development of youth and young adults. The session explored strategies to develop, enhance and expand a coordinated youth workforce development system. Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend, President & CEO was the lead presenter. Click here for more information.
The Hartford Opportunity Youth Collaborative, Our Piece of the Pie, Blue Hills Civic Association and Opportunities Industrialization Center of New Britain presented on several Opportunity Youth successful strategies. One of the topics for discussion was related to the successes of the Opportunity Works Program in Hartford. Presenters included: Jinelle Hooker, Our Piece of the Pie; Vicki Gallon-Clark, Blue Hills Civic Association; Paulette Fox, OIC-New Britain. Click here for more information and click here for more information.
In Portland Maine, The Youth and Community Engagement Team (YCE) at the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy, University of Southern Maine, has been working with individuals and community partners to create responsive policies and practices in Maine since the 1990s. YCE initiative and partnering organizations work to support Opportunity Youth in leveraging their leadership, connect to resources and build their skills as they transition into adulthood and independence. YCE staff Cheri Crossman and young leaders presented on the initiatives that enhance and expand Opportunity Youth’s engagement and attainment of post-secondary, career credentialing and meaningful work experiences. Youth spoke from their perspective and experience of key elements of leadership development and participating in state and national opportunities. Cheri shared strategies and an overview of each initiative as well as information about Maine’s adaptation and implementation of the Back on Track Model (JFF) as part of Maine’s Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP) initiative. Lastly, youth leaders shared and discussed their perspective of what is still needed to move toward increasing public awareness of how to best support and engage youth, so that youth have the opportunity to obtain their goals and dreams and our communities can realize the benefits of these young people gaining meaningful and gainful employment. Click here for more information.