DREAM with us.
United Way is partnering with a group Addison County leaders from the business, education and mental health fields to better serve our Opportunity Youth--that is the more than 500 youth aged 16-25 in this county who are not in school or are at risk of dropping out and are not employed. The group was convened as part of Unitedy Way's Regional Partnership Prevention grant and in response to data collected by a working group of the Addison County Economic Development Council that suggests there is more that could be done to ensure that Opportunity Youth have access to all the support and resources they need to complete school and find gainful employment. Launched in August, the steering committee is currently reaching out to Opportunity Youth to better understand their experience and is surveying the organizations and institutions with which they interface to map out the resources available to them and how that is coordinated. They are also researching successful mentoring models for this population as a potential enhancement to services. The goal is to bring voice and action to what more is need to make and keep connection for these valued youth in our community.
Update 4/15/18: The United Way of Addison County is happy to partner with Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) and the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center (HCC) on their VT YouthWorks project.
The United Way is committed to providing everyone the opportunity to reach their full potential. The goal of the United Way of Addison County is to impact individual lives and our community for positive change by focusing on health, education and financial stability. We identify county-wide community needs, collaborate to develop strategies to meet those needs, and raise funds to support or implement those strategies and measure the results of those investments.
The United Way of Addison County (UWAC) is very interested in reaching and supporting the youth that will be served by VT YouthWorks. This is based on two key data points. The first is data from the national organization, Opportunity Nation, which determined that there are more than 500 youth aged 16-25 in Addison County who are either not in school or are at risk of dropping out and are not employed. The second is the fact that based on Vermont’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, almost half of the Addison County high school students surveyed reported not feeling that they were valued by their community. This coupled with the rising rates of substance abuse and addiction among youth in Addison County led us to develop a special initiative focused just on this population.
As part of a Regional Prevention Partnership grant, UWAC convened a small steering committee to explore the support services and programs already available and to identify gaps and opportunities for enhancing and bolstering the support that appeared to be the most successful. As part of this effort, we surveyed the organizations and schools in the county that we knew connected with this population of youth. We also did several focus groups with youth from this population to hear from their perspective what they need.
One key learning from this work led us to this partnership with VAL and HCC on their VT YouthWorks project and that came from the youth themselves. To a person, these youth, were bright and eager to achieve their goals and aspired to a good quality of life. And yet, there is a distinct lack of resiliency among this population. In some ways that is a paradox, given the challenges that some of them have had to overcome living in poverty and within families that experience significant amounts of toxic stress. But beyond surviving, it’s quite challenging for many of these youth to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve even basic goals such as showing up on time for work regularly and so they don’t. This coping mechanism can appear to employers as disinterest or lack of motivation and commitment and certainly isn’t something they can accommodate and still run a sustainable business. Several of the youth we talked to noted that when they did meet their goals, such as graduating or even passing a class, it was do in part to a champion that they had in their life--someone who believed in them and encouraged them to “stick with it” even when they didn’t believe in themselves.
VT YouthWorks is an intensive program that has the possibility of providing participants with the skills and even certification to find and keep gainful employment. UWAC will be responsible for resourcing and managing a mentoring program that is integrated into VT YouthWorks and offers participants a champion to make sure they have all the support they need to complete that work. The mentor will be an important connector for the youth with both VAL and HCC staff as well as any employers within the volunteer and job internship opportunities the youth will have, reinforcing and role modeling skills the youth can use to navigate their experience.
There is community-wide excitement about this initiative. We have reached out to other social service agencies serving this population with workforce development programs such as Counseling Services of Addison County and the Youth Development Program at Easter Seals and they are all supportive of this model and are looking forward to seeing how it unfolds and helping as needed.