Giving Compass' Take:

• Bekah McNeel shares the ways that cities from Philadelphia to San Antonio are working to support opportunity youth succeed long-term. 

• How can funders work to ensure that cities have the resources they need to support opportunity youth? 

• Learn about entrepreneurship education for opportunity youth

For Dionna Camino, it was caring for her terminally ill father. For Shelby Morales, it was an unexpected pregnancy at age 14. For both, it was too much responsibility too soon that knocked them off the tightrope of getting through high school and college to land a good-paying job. Now, they are among the estimated 4.5 million so-called opportunity youth nationwide — 16- to 24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working — struggling to put their lives back together.

Researchers say there are around 75,000 disconnected youth in Los Angeles; 43,000 in Philadelphia; 36,500 in Baltimore; and 35,000 in San Antonio’s Bexar County, where Camino and Morales live. Disengaged from both education and the labor force, these young people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, too often finding themselves in the school-to-prison pipeline.

How they got there is a question that has no easy answer, said Steven Hussain, former chief mission services officer of Goodwill San Antonio. Some are homeless or have young children. Maybe they dropped out of high school, have criminal records or are on probation. But some have high school diplomas and even some college coursework. Opportunity youth don’t fit a profile, he said: “It’s usually a mix of things.”

For most opportunity youth, it isn’t a defined set of missteps that apply to certain, exceptionally troubled, kids. It’s really more the opposite: a churning sea of relentless waves and undertows pushing them under and dragging them in all directions.

From their precarious position treading water, they can look up and see the school-to-success high wire — options and resources available to teens that will guide them toward becoming financially, emotionally, socially secure adults. They just don’t know how to climb back on.

In San Antonio, which makes up the vast majority of Bexar County, the Department of Human Services, Goodwill and Communities in Schools opened Nxt Level, the state’s first comprehensive youth re-engagement center, in February. It is specifically designed to help undereducated young people who are disengaged from societal support systems regain their footing. Camino and Morales are just two of the opportunity youth hoping Nxt Level can help them find their way back.

Read the full article about cities working to support opportunity youth by Bekah McNeel at The 74.