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Spring: A Time for New Beginnings and New Trajectories for Opportunity Youth

by CNCS Staff

Youth speak with an older mentor

May is a time of graduations, fresh spring air and new beginnings. But for many, graduation from high school or college is far from a reality, and opportunities for a fresh start are out of reach. At least one in six young people ages 16-24 are disconnected from school and work – the two pathways that provide the greatest hope for a bright and productive future. Yet, these young people dream of building careers and making important contributions to our communities. That's why we see them as “Opportunity Youth.”

There are many organizations working around the country to ensure that Opportunity Youth have access to the tools and services they need to succeed. The White House Council for Community Solutions (the Council), Goodwill Industries International and Grad Nation recognize the importance of connecting young people with education, job training, and support. These organizations are helping youth who are out of school and work change the trajectory of their lives and are helping communities realize the potential that Opportunity Youth have to infuse our economy with new skills and leadership.

The New York Times recently cited public service as a great way to acquire new skills, give back, and open doors to a variety of careers. Public service involves giving back to communities – the same communities that are at the center of putting disconnected youth on track to learning and work success. And while nearly seven in ten Opportunity Youth want to make a difference in improving the lives of others, only three percent report that they currently volunteer in their communities.

Clearly, the desire – and the opportunity – exists. In order to help youth make the leap from aspiration to action, communities must surround them with more comprehensive and flexible supports that meet them where they are, so young people can fully participate in school and work. When communities join together to meet critical needs for youth, they are making an investment in their local infrastructure and their future workforce. Across the country, community collaboratives exemplify how all sectors can join together to change the future for young people.

An Exemplary Community Collaborative

One example of a very successful community collaborative is the Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ), a neighborhood-based education collaborative in Orlando, Fla., modeled after the well-known Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). Before this initiative in Parramore, 73 percent of children were living in poverty and 47 percent of adults were lacking a high school diploma or GED. The community was riddled with crime.

But Parramore's luck began to change when Mayor Dyer was elected. He and his team decided to address Parramore's problems by first looking to evidence-based models that were already producing results in building youth skills and competencies and connecting youth with trusted adults and mentors. They then turned to the community to ask what they needed, recognizing that community members are the partners and producers of impact.

Input from across the community's varied sectors – nonprofit, government, faith, civic, education, philanthropy, and corporate – was critical to the success of the program. The city began allocating significant resources to address the neighborhood's housing, public safety, quality of life, and business development challenges.

After four years of incorporating proven strategies both inside and outside of the community within its initiatives, Parramore saw a 21 percent increase in the number of children at or above grade level on the standardized math test (FCAT) and an 81 percent reduction in neighborhood crime.

PKZ made an impact because community members and organizations saw a need and worked together to address it. This program makes a fresh start possible for the youth in Parramore and serves as an example for the nation. The youth in Parramore have been given an opportunity – the opportunity for a brighter future. The Council has developed resources to help every community build an initiative that leverages all sectors – and encourages communities to go “all in” for youth.

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