Engaging "Opportunity Youth"
Author: Helios Education Foundation
Nationwide, about one in seven young adults ages 16-24 are neither working nor are they in school. Often referred to as disconnected youth, these individuals have lost focus and are not on track to build a successful future for themselves. As researchers have found, the problem of disconnected youth is serious and costly, both for the individuals as well as for the broader communities in which they live.
In 2012, the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions sought to change the focus from viewing these students as disconnected to viewing them as individuals with opportunities for change. The Aspen Forum created the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund to help improve the outcomes of young people ages 16 to 24 who are disconnected from education and employment. Tucson, Arizona was selected as one of the 21 cities across the country to participate in this Fund.
In 2013, Helios supported a 12-month planning process led by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona with a $150,000 grant. Out of that work, a cross-sector collaborative and council called Youth on the Rise led the work, resulting in a plan to create “re-engagement” hubs where community partners would co-locate education, workforce development, and other support services to holistically meet the needs of these opportunity youth. Each individual is connected to a pathway coach who helps them create a pathway plan, connects them with resources and support services, and monitors their progress. In 2014, Helios invested an additional $600,000 toward this work.
Currently, the re-engagement center is serving 46 youth with services related to either continuing their education by pursuing a GED or diploma or pursuing a career by focusing on job searches, skill building and employment.
This project has also served as a great example of building community collaborations as various organizations including: Pima County Juvenile Court Center, Joint Technical Education District, Center for the Future of Arizona’s Pathway to Prosperity Initiative, Cradle to Career Partnership and Pima Community College have all been involved in this effort.