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Supporting Opportunity Youth: The Power of Community Collaboratives

by Michele Jolin

Communities have a long history of coming together to revitalize and transform their areas. From the settlement houses of the late 19th century to the 1960s War on Poverty, communities have been collaborating for centuries to improve their surroundings.

Change like this doesn't happen without everyone pulling together – and National Service is often a cornerstone of these efforts, filling critical needs to address local challenges.

When President Obama called on the nation to go “All In” to connect Opportunity Youth with meaningful learning and work opportunities, he did so with a personal understanding of the power that collaboration holds for cost-effective community-led problem solving. This is the underpinning of a community collaborative.

To put young people who are disconnected from school and jobs on a clear pathway to economic opportunity and independence, will require entire communities to unite with a singleness of purpose, applying resources toward this goal. This is the underpinning of a community collaborative.

Community Collaboratives

A community collaborative is an intentional effort by all sectors to tackle a local challenge together. When nonprofits, public institutions, businesses, and ordinary citizens work together, they can create lasting change. Collaboratives involve key stakeholders who can make the most immediate impact – and also rely on individual community members to shape services and provide perspective.

The groups work together to set long-term, shared goals and community-wide metrics with the expectation that change takes time and all share in success. Once the collaborative defines success and decides what to measure, members use data to assess progress and adjust efforts and resources as necessary. Creating change requires flexibility and adaptation.

Collaboratives Are Effective

The Strive Partnership of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport, a Corporation for National and Community Social Innovation Fund grantee, is a promising example of community collaboration. In 2003, school leaders realized that students were not prepared to meet the demands of college and careers. School leaders came together with the support of KnowledgeWorks, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati to create a plan for student success in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

They created a detailed Student Roadmap to Success, with “cradle-to-career” progress for every child. Using the roadmap as a guide, The Strive Partnership aimed to sustain their impact by setting up a support system that tapped into a range of community advisors and resources -- allowing them to take specific action when necessary. All of these efforts paid off, resulting in a 10 percent increase in graduation rates since 2003, and a 16 percent increase in college enrollment in Covington, K.Y., since 2004.

Helping Opportunity Youth

Community collaboratives are in a prime position to help Opportunity Youth because they hear directly from youth themselves and can directly address the unique concerns of young people. Stakeholders on all levels are involved; educators, non-profit organizations, business leaders, elected officials, and families – they're in it for the long-term because the future of their community is at stake. As a group, they have the power to pull together the right resources to meet the individual needs of each youth.

Recognizing that nothing happens overnight, effective collaboratives use data to constantly assess their progress in reaching their common goal – giving young people the support they need to make informed choices about their future.

Support a Collaborative

How can your community better collaborate to help youth succeed? Check out our community collaborative toolbox, white paper and case studies for help and ideas.

The task of helping Opportunity Youth change the trajectory of their life may seem daunting – but that's why the White House Council for Community Solutions is embracing this all-hands-on-deck moment. When every citizen – working in every corner of their community – steps up to this challenge, we can provide youth with the support they need to chart a bright future.

Michele Jolin is a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she is developing policy tools to foster social entrepreneurship and drive investment toward more innovative, effective non-profit solutions to our nation's critical social problems. Previously, Ms. Jolin served as Senior Advisor for Social Innovation at the White House, in the newly created Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

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