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This is an important moment in time for Opportunity Youth in our country. While innovative community-based programs like YouthBuild, Youth Corps, and countless others have worked for decades to support these youth on pathways to success at the local level, Opportunity Youth have gone largely unrecognized at the national level and have been underserved by the systems designed to support them. However, the recent work of the White House Council for Community Solutions, with stellar leadership from Chair, Patty Stonesifer, has helped to expand interest, commitment, and momentum for achieving better outcomes for Opportunity Youth. For the first time in decades, there is an authentic focus and a strong call to action from the highest levels of government, pushing us to break down institutional silos and pull together across sectors on behalf of, and with, Opportunity Youth.
Employers in today’s economy face critical needs that can be addressed by supporting this population. We are currently experiencing the lowest levels of youth employment our country has seen since World War II. Yet jobs go unfilled because employers cannot find the skilled talent they need. If we are able to better educate and equip our nation’s youth for the workforce, they possess tremendous untapped talent for our business and our economy.
The framework outlined in this paper is meant to address the needs of Opportunity Youth and employers, building upon national momentum in order to drive local action through a new approach to social change called collective impact. Truly supporting these populations will require the kind of quality, multi-systems approach that is inherent in collective impact. It will also require that we take the time to authentically engage Opportunity Youth in helping to inform and shape solutions.
Our hope is that this paper will encourage communities to work together, with Opportunity Youth at the table, across sectors and with industry, in order to expand pathways to education and economic opportunity so that youth have what they need to succeed in communities and, ultimately, across the country. We look forward to following the work as communities seize the moment for collective impact for Opportunity Youth.