Making Hill Visits Count for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign

by Shawnice Jackson, OYUnited National Council Member

The Reconnecting Youth Campaign kicked off its 2019 advocacy efforts with a winter convening that brought the diverse coalition of youth practitioners, youth leaders, funders, advocates, program staff and directors together in Washington, DC. Everyone in the room was there because we believe in the potential of Opportunity Youth and the need to invest in their future.

The campaign’s goal is simple: Reconnect 1 million Opportunity Youth each year, by increasing federal funding to proven programs in communities across the country. (Learn More.)

For those unfamiliar with the term, “Opportunity Youth” are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or the workforce, formerly referred to as “at-risk,” “disadvantaged” or “disconnected.” The young leaders at the forefront of the Opportunity Youth movement and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign have rebranded and reclaimed a more asset-based approach to the many barriers and systemic hurdles faced by young people coming from poverty. A key part of this work to reclaim the narrative is embracing the term Opportunity Youth to acknowledge that young people both seek opportunities and represent a huge breadth of untapped potential. It also properly locates the “disconnection” in our systems and policy, not our young people.

Across the United States, it is estimated that 4.3 million Opportunity Youth are separated from pathways to productive adulthood. Despite this bleak reality, we know there are solutions and answers within reach. There are numerous federally funded programs that are working to allow Opportunity Youth to gain key relationships, skills, expertise and vital supports to prepare for careers and higher education—and propelling youth forward in their own trajectory towards purpose with a sense of dignity.

 

Shawnice Jackson, Kimberly Pham, David Abromowitz, Rachel Marshall, and Shaquana Boykin on the RYC Hill Visit

Mapping Our Shared Strategy

The first half of our meeting focused on recapping the Reconnecting Youth Campaign’s success in 2018 (read more here), defining our priorities for this year, and understanding intersectional issues like the green economy, youth justice reform, the broader world of social programs and Census 2020.

Building Relationships in Congress

After a training led by me and Adam Strong, a fellow co-founder of Opportunity Youth United, we took to Capitol Hill. With members of Opportunity Youth United leading the way, we met with staffers of more than 20 Members of Congress to welcome new Members of Congress and staff, inform them about the campaign, educate them about Opportunity Youth and the realities they face, and call on them to support an increase in appropriations to scale the federally funded programs.

Our experiences in the meetings were overwhelmingly positive. “I’m glad I could make it for this year’s kickoff meeting for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign. I always love being here, working with folks so our communities back home can have the funding they need to provide pathways into the workforce for our young people,” Adam Strong reflected.

Another co-founder of Opportunity Youth United, Kimberly Pham, also a former Opportunity Youth, shared that, “Visiting Capitol Hill following the government shutdown felt refreshing because everyone we met with was enthusiastic and supportive. There were no negative responses and since we are looking for bipartisan support, it felt good to walk away from the Hill with optimism.”

“Our goal is not only attainable, but just and within our reach.”

Optimism is necessary for the campaign to reach its lofty goals of reconnecting 1 million young people per year – but with Opportunity Youth leading the way, the possibilities are endless.

As I reflect on the diverse expertise and skill sets of the members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, and our shared passion for seeing our nation’s youth thrive, I am hopeful that our goal is not only attainable, but just and within our reach.


Shawnice Jackson

Shawnice Jackson is a Policy Advocate and former Opportunity Youth committed to building equitable and strong systems, policy, and pathways to opportunity for underserved and marginalized youth and communities. As a co-founder of the National Council of Young Leaders & Opportunity Youth United, Shawnice works to advise funders and policy makers on the needs and potential of Opportunity Youth across the country. She also bolsters the larger Opportunity Youth movement through her consultancy work and leadership. Shawnice’s current leadership roles include: Advisory Board Member with The Opportunity Youth Network; Leadership Council Member with The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund; Opportunity Leader with Opportunity Nation; Leadership Committee Member with the International Youth Foundation’s Reconnecting Youth Global Advisory Committee and Steering Committee Member for America’s Promise Alliance.

This article was originally published on SparkAction, Making Hill Visits Count for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, 2/13/2019

Community Action Teams Come Together for Unity and Inspiration

by Luis Bautista-Morales, Coordinator of the OYUnited Los Angeles Community Action Team

The annual Opportunity Youth United Community Action Team Convening took place in December 2018, in Washington, D.C. It brought three or four leaders of each of the 17 OYUnited Community Action Teams (CATs) across the U.S. together to share and build on the work we’ve done individually and collectively in 2018.

CATs represented included: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Greenville (MS), Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Maricopa County (AZ), Pima County (AZ), Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle. The CATs gathered for three days and participated in a series of conversations, training and discussions.  Lashon Amado, the OYUnited National Coordinator of the CATs, facilitated the weekend.

The CATs come from different communities but face many of the same issues and share the same goal: to increase opportunity while decreasing poverty. The CATs shared their community struggles and learned experiences from working with their respective communities to empower youth to become more civically engaged. Sharing stories, victories and lessons helped the CATs to learn from each other while building on the unified vision and gathering more strength to bring back the same excitement to their communities.

There were about 70 of us, ranging in age from 16 to 85, but mostly in our 20s and 30s, men and women, representing urban and rural areas.  We were Black, White, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian in heritage, in keeping with OYUnited’s principle of building racial equity, healing and unity.

Building Community from the Start

We kicked off our convening by introducing ourselves to each other, since our Community Action Teams have grown from 10 to 17 in 2018 (and we keep growing!). Everyone formed two circles, one inside the other—those of us on the inside of the circle introduced ourselves to the person opposite us on the outside, and answered a question posed by the facilitator. Then, we switched. After speaking deeply to each other, we moved on to address another question with the next person in the circle.

The questions were very deep and brought young community leaders together with more experienced community leaders to shed titles and share things that even close friends might not know.

“How old were you when you became aware of racism?” “If you could change one thing in your community, what would it be and why?” These were among some of the questions asked and the room suddenly became full of conversations that were hard to stop because they were powerful, interesting and created a bond.

Immediately after this exercise, CATs shared their reports from their respective cities. These reports were exciting and inspiring.

Dealing with Reality

During the report-outs, one CAT leader received notice that one of his youth had been shot by the police the night before.

As this news was shared, the room became quiet and many were left with their mouths wide open, as if the air had been sucked out and an empty familiar feeling had been left in its place. The news felt like the perfect time to be angry, to be frustrated and to yell as loud as we could. This, however, did not happen. Why? Because, like the rest of the U.S., we have all experienced this in one way or another in our own communities. We have come to receive bad news with a kind of numbness, of despair, of unlimited grief, a deeply familiar sense of the impact of being born in the wrong city, in the wrong location, with the wrong income, and on the wrong side of town.

The CAT members know that opportunities can change the outcomes for the young people they deal with. We imagine what the life of this young person would have been if he had been given the chances of a young person in the suburbs. We imagine the difference in his life if he had been presented with opportunities for education, healthcare and a chance to pursue a dream. This is the reason the CATs did not react the way most would anticipate a room full of activists might. The only way to bring change to our communities, which suffer from this and many other problems stemming from poverty, is by coming together even closer and working on bringing opportunities to the youth in our communities.

“We imagine the difference in his life if he had been presented with opportunities for education, healthcare and a chance to pursue a dream.”

Shortly after gaining our breath and coming back together, we ended the day by sharing some of the ways in which we heal ourselves and our communities. The healing methods were important since we all share the pain from issues in our communities. Some of the methods that CAT members use are long baths, deep talks with friends, yoga, time in nature, exercise, crying with trusted partners and meditation to heal and work through tragedies in our communities.

The next day, we started our day with a chant from Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and respect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

We left our three days together inspired, fired up, informed, united, ready for 2019, to continue working for a better world for all.

OYUnited: Showing Up, Standing Up and Speaking Up at the Polls

By Makayla Wright and Adam Strong

This election saw the highest youth voter turnout for midterms in almost a quarter century. In communities across the nation, OYUnited has been working hard to empower young people to vote.

This midterm election marked historical voter turnout, including among youth. CIRCLE, a nonpartisan research institution,  estimates that voter turnout among young adults (voters between the ages of 18 and 29) went up by 10 percentage points, making this midterm the highest youth participation at the polls during a midterm election in almost a quarter century.

Young people across the country made it clear at the polls that they care about our democracy, know the issues, and will show up at the polls to hold elected officials accountable.

Many people were surprised by the historic youth turnout levels, but here at OYUnited, we planned on it. Last year, we decided that if we wanted to shape the political discussion and have the issues we care about at the center  like the mass incarceration of our brothers and sisters, the lack of investment in our communities, and the lack of pathways for higher education and a living wage –  then we’d have to mobilize young people across the country to show up at the polls.

Thirteen of our Community Action Teams (CATs) across the country started planning their Civic Engagement Campaigns for the 2018 midterms a full year in advance, and began implementing this spring, focusing on civic education, voter registration and voter turnout among young adults and all community members. These communities were Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Greenville (MS), NYC, New Orleans, Phoenix, Seattle, San Francisco and Sacramento.

In Seattle, our CAT led a series of events to energize and inform young voters, and to boost voter registration.

Our anchor organization, SOAR, is an intermediary in the midst of transition. I was hired in a new position, as Youth Voice Organizer in September of 2017 and tasked with working closely with community and launching our Seattle community action team. As a transplant, I learned a lot about the region. I learned about the inequities between South King County and Seattle, I learned about the lack of youth voice, and most importantly I learned that Opportunity Youth in King County were not being engaged civically, so our team decided to engage our community in different ways.

“I learned that Opportunity Youth in King County were not being engaged civically, so our team decided to engage our community in different ways.”

We hosted open mics, an event with the secretary of state as the keynote, a block party, pizza ballot parties, door knocking, voter registration at alternative high schools, homeless shelters, and re-engagement sites.

We set up tables at youth detention facilities and in parks to register youth and talk with the community. We also collaborated with local elected officials, supported education initiatives to increase college access on the ballot, and ran campaigns on social media.

The Seattle team was busy: With only four young people serving as voter engagement ambassadors in Seattle, Kent, Auburn, Federal Way, and Burien/White Center, we successfully engaged 500 people, registered 50, and helped 10 people return their ballots to ballot drop boxes!

In Chicago, the OYUnited CAT is proud of the impact we measured this election. The CAT focused its voter turnout efforts on precinct 10 in Congressional District #4 (a precinct is the smallest division of voting areas, known in some states as an election district).  The comparative voter turnout in this precinct was as follows: in 2014 there were 147 total votes cast, and in 2018 there were 363 total votes cast –  an increase of 216 voters, which translates into a 246 percent increase.

OYUnited and our CATs are committed to continuing to help our peers register to vote, show up at the polls feeling informed and ready, and stand up and speak up for our communities and our future.

We need you to help make this happen!  Please click here to join OYUnited.

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Makayla Wright is the Youth Voice Organizer for SOAR, a Seattle-based community coalition working together to promote the healthy development of children, youth and families in Martin Luther King County and the anchor organization for the OYUnited Community Action Team (CAT) in Seattle. Makayla grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas. As the child of former Opportunity Youth who never went back to school to get their GEDs, she realized how important it was to work with young adults in similar situations. Makayla graduated from Smith College and has worked in educational outreach programs, youth residential treatment facilities, charter schools, and as an Academic Coach. As a Black woman from the Midwest, she is passionate about exploring root issues and working with communities, and now advocates for youth and young adults by convening the King County Youth Advisory Council and organizing the King County OYunited CAT.

 

adamAdam Strong is a founding member of OYUnited and member of OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders. A passionate advocate and lifelong learner, he has six years of experience in national policy advocacy, using his skills in policy analysis and communication & strategy he aims to influence policymakers to implement policies that increase economic mobility and decrease poverty in America. More from Adam.

 

OYUnited & CIRCLE Team Up on Survey of Young Voters’ Perceptions

By OYUnited and CIRCLE

OYUnited worked with CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, to survey young leaders in six states—Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Washington— to understand their experiences with, knowledge of and perceptions of election and voting.

We identified the main barriers that young people face in casting a ballot, and offered specific action steps to remedy them. Our initial findings are summarized in the attached PDF (a full report will be released in early 2019 and we’ll share it on OYUnited.org).

The findings are also included in the Resources section of OYunited.org. To learn more about CIRCLE, visit civicyouth.org.

(Click to read the PDF.)

Tides of Progress: The One-Year Anniversary of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign

by Adam Strong, OYUnited National Council Member

On September 26th, 2018, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign – a national campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding education, training, national service and employment opportunities for one million Opportunity Youth (young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working). This in-person meeting not only marked one year since our launch, but it also gave us a moment to celebrate our significant success. I felt proud to report out with my colleagues that the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget had a $118 million dollar increase in funding for programs that serve Opportunity Youth from FY2017 levels.

In a time when most thought it would be impossible for an appropriations campaign to have any success, we defied the odds. We showed that when we stand united, we can create the political will to make the investments that our country desperately needs. Every time we met we asked ourselves who is in the room, and who else needs to be.

To ensure that each of the 4.6 million Opportunity Youth in our country have a bridge to education, career, or national service opportunities, we knew we had to grow; we had to reach beyond our capacity at every level. We needed everyone. With each passing month, the campaign grew.

As a result, when we circulated our letter calling on the Congressional Appropriations Committee to increase funding for the federal programs serving Opportunity Youth, more than 50 organizations from across the country signed on.

In this first year, our quarterly in-person campaign meetings represented our membership’s commitment: we always had a full house. One of my favorite parts of our meetings is the “State of the Issues Policy & Messaging Fair,” an opportunity to get updates from many of the systems that affect Opportunity Youth, from criminal justice system, immigration, and homelessness, to safety net programming, apprenticeships, and child welfare. It is always fantastic to be able to hear and interact with experts in their respective fields in small groups.

Doing More Than Defending Against Cuts

As a campaign, we have been through a lot together. When we were in the early planning stages, I remember we had tough conversations with some of our colleagues about our goal. Some thought our ask was too high, too “aspirational,” especially in our current political climate. Many of the budgets coming out of the executive office called for cuts and even eliminations to some of our programs. We knew that if we really wanted to provide pathways to opportunity for Opportunity Youth, we had to have the audacity to try. We had to stand up and advocate for our communities, and that is what we did. Coming into our one-year anniversary we had almost 40 meetings with congressional staff, and our passion for the work didn’t stop us from having nearly a dozen more meetings later that afternoon. We were pleased that Members of Congress circulated a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter asking colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to increase funds for effective programs.

Our tenacity paid off, and two days later, a Labor, Health, and Human Services (Labor HHS) appropriation bill was signed into law that provides a $210 million dollar increase in funding for programs that serve Opportunity Youth in FY19 from FY17 levels.

Since the campaign has started, we have seen a $329 million dollar increase in funding for programs that serve Opportunity Youth!

The Reconnecting Youth Campaign is proud of our collective efforts to educate Members of Congress about the vast potential of Opportunity Youth and how every $1 invested in helping a young person reconnect yields more than a $5 return on investment. Investing in our youth is the best possible investment we could make. Reaching out and securing bipartisan champions to support key investments has been crucial.

While we have come a long way in our first year, we continue to work toward a more significant investment that would reconnect 1 million young people per year to education, careers, and service opportunities. We have much work to do in FY2020, but together we are making the difference.

To learn more about the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, click here.

 

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adam
Adam Strong
is a founding member of OYUnited and member of OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders. A passionate advocate and lifelong learner, he has six years of experience in national policy advocacy, using his skills in policy analysis and communication & strategy he aims to influence policymakers to implement policies that increase economic mobility and decrease poverty in America. More from Adam.

NVRlogo2

#OYUvotes: National Voter Registration Day Challenge

NVRD-register!September 25 is National Voter Registration Day. Your voice matters, your vote matters and not just during presidential elections. This November, be sure to go to the polls.

OYUnited is hosting a voter registration challenge. Be sure you’re registered, and then urge your peers to register on or before September 25.

Here’s how to get involved:

    • First, are you registered and ready? Use our tool, in partnership with TurboVote, here.
    • Why do you vote? Why does it matter to you? Make a short video, image/meme or social media post and share it with the hashtags:  #OYUvotes and #NationalVoterRegistrationDay (bonus: add a hashtag for your city or town!). Be sure to include these tags so we and our partners can help amplify your post.
    • Check out Nonprofit Vote’s resource page to get the info and deadlines for Voting in Your State.
    • Questions? You can call 866-OUR-VOTE to get local information and answers to your questions (or visit the ElectionProtection.org site).

Share this with your friends and networks! Use our NVRD social media toolkit to spread the word.

YouthPOwer

Bringing Youth Power to Polls at the #YouthPower2018 Summit

youthpower

by Adam Strong, OYUnited National Council of Young Leaders

August 10, 2018 – It was a hot California day, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees, but the high temperatures would not dissuade over 300 young changemakers from across the state of California from descending on the University of California Davis campus for the 2018 Youth Power Summit, hosted by PolicyLink in partnership with the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and numerous local partners (see the full list here).

The purpose of the event was to strengthen youth movements across California by bringing young activists together for a three-day weekend to hone their skills, share best practices, and build community while they advocate for a better future for all Californians.

With the focus on building youth-led movements, Opportunity Youth United, of course, was there in force with our Los Angelos, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Oakland Community Action Teams (CATs) in attendance.

Their Saturday started on a high note during the regional breakout sessions focused on quality education throughout California. The young leaders split into groups by region to identify problems in their local schools, brainstorm solutions, and recognize their local decision-makers active on the specific issues. The workshop seamlessly built a sense of community across the state as young leaders began to see the common threads across their communities.

OYU at Youth Power Summit

 

Asking Questions of Candidates

As the day progressed into the afternoon, the nonpartisan Superintendent Candidate Forum went into full swing as the two leading candidates for the office of California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, faced off and answered questions from the moderator and from a group of the young leaders.

youth power

Young people ask the candidates questions during the forum.

In addition, with a little bit of coaxing behind the scenes, we were able to arrange for representatives from our California youth-led CATs to interview the candidates in a small informal group. Both candidates were gracious enough to accept, allowing the OYUnited CAT leaders over 30 minutes of uninterrupted conversation.

The California OYUnited members showed up, stood up, and spoke up about real problems their school systems were facing and asked important questions. California has more than 6 million public school students; the Superintendent selected in November’s election will lead the country’s largest and most racially diverse school system. Both candidates were prepared to address the issues and gave thoughtful responses to each question.

Meeting with Elected Officials

Sunday was another action-packed day as the young leaders prepared for over 100 legislative meetings in total at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The first part of the preparation was the young leaders learning about the nine bills that were identified by their organizations as good bills to support heading into the summit. Each participant chose a system they were passionate about — for example, police accountability, transparency, education or workforce issues. They then learned about the bills identified in those sectors: what the bills propose, the problems they were designed to address, and the talking points and messaging for each bill.

After these workshops, the young people met in their small groups for a training on best practices and general expectations for meeting with legislators, and of course, had fun engaging in role-plays to prepare.

Below is the list of bills chosen by the organizations and their young leaders:

  • Police Accountability
    • AB 931 (Weber) – Changes the standard by which law enforcement officers can use deadly force.
  • Policy Transparency
    • SB 1421 (Skinner)– Allow public access to police investigations, findings, and discipline relating to deadly and serious uses of force, sexual assault against a civilian, and proven dishonesty.
  • Juvenile Justice
    • SB 439 (Lara & Mitchell) – Would exclude children 11 years old and younger from prosecution in juvenile court, protecting them from the negative impacts of formal justice system involvement. |or| Setting a minimum age for Juvenile Court prosecution.
    • SB 1391(Lara & Mitchell) – Prohibits children age 14 and 15 from being tried as adults in criminal court and being sentenced to time in adult prison.
  • Sentencing Reform
    • SB 1437(Anderson & Skinner)- clarifies that a person may only be convicted of murder if the individual willingly participated in an act that results in a homicide or that was clearly intended to result in a homicide.
  • Education
    • SB 607 (Skinner) – End of willful defiance/disruption suspensions and expulsions.
    • AB 2772 (Medina) – Ethnic Studies Requirement.
  • Healing and Trauma
    • AB 1639 (E. Garcia) – California Victim Compensation Board, this bill ensures that alleged gang affiliation and immigration status don’t preclude someone from Victims Compensation Fund eligibility.
  • Workforce
    • AB 2138 (Chiu & Low) Access to Occupational Licenses for formally incarcerated people.

The capitol visit day was a strong success. Our young leaders came prepared, shared their stories, built relationships with their elected officials and helped move the needle towards a better future for all Californians.

Learn More

  • You can learn more about the Youth Power Summit here.
  • You can learn more about OYUnited’s Community Action Teams (CATs) in California and around the nation – and get involved! – here.

 

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adam
Adam Strong
is a founding member of OYUnited and member of our National Council of Young Leaders. A passionate advocate and lifelong learner, he has six years of experience in national policy advocacy, using his skills in policy analysis and communication & strategy he aims to influence policymakers to implement policies that increase economic mobility and decrease poverty in America. More from Adam.

 

MCF

OYU Builds Power with the Marguerite Casey Foundation

From May 18 to 20, more than 400 leaders gathered at the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s National Convening in Washington, DC, to celebrate their work, their communities and their power.

OYU leaders were among the grassroots leaders, students, parents, artists, spoken-word poets, and organizers who explored what power really means, what it takes to build and grow a movement of low-income families, and how to disrupt and dismantle structural causes of poverty.

During the convening, OYU leaders and members facilitated a breakout session focused on building power among young people.

In preparation for the convening, OYU created a video on the theme of power #OwnthePower2018:

Learn more about the convening on the Marguerite Casey Foundation site: Our Power. Our Community. Our Change.

Hope in Turbulent Times: Adam Strong on a New Campaign to Reconnect Youth

By: Adam Strong
Oct. 16, 2017

I don’t believe I have ever felt so hopeful in such politically turbulent times.

On September 27, I traveled to Capitol Hill for the launch of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, a broad coalition of organizations that have come together to advocate for a solution to one of the biggest problems our country faces. There are currently 4.9 million young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working. We refer to these young people as “Opportunity Youth” for two reasons: they are seeking opportunity and they represent an untapped opportunity to employers and communities. They are individuals who want to contribute, who want a pathway to success and a strong future, but lack access to opportunity. Close to 3 million of these Opportunity Youth come from low-income families facing real systematic barriers.

At the same time, data from the Department of Labor released in June show that our nation has 6 million job vacancies. With the right supports, many Opportunity Youth could step up and fill these roles. What’s more, reconnecting a young person saves American taxpayers $65,000 over the course of that person’s career, and brings in an additional $105,000 in tax revenue. It really is a win-win.

Beyond the Numbers: Real Lives, Real Potential

To put it in perspective: across America, slightly more than 1 in 10 young people ages 16 to 24 are not in school and not working. Yet in many communities across the country, the numbers are much higher. In Southeastern Kentucky, where I’m from, the average is closer to 1 in 4 young people. This carries a social cost that goes beyond mere economics. A sense of hopelessness and helplessness is fueling increasing levels of crime and drug abuse in my area, and I believe it’s largely due to our inability to develop and provide pathways for young people.

That’s where the Reconnecting Youth Campaign: Unleashing Limitless Potential comes in. It is a federal advocacy campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding 1 million program slots for meaningful education, training, national service and employment opportunities each year for 16- to 24-year-olds.

There are numerous federally funded programs that are highly vetted, proven to work, and that provide these young people real pathways to reconnection.  These evidence-based programs include WIOA Youth Services, Job Corps, YouthBuild, Service and Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps, National Guard Challenge Program, Reentry Employment Opportunities, and many others.

Together, such federally funded programs currently have slots for about 330,000 young people distributed in communities across the U.S. This amount doesn’t even come close to addressing the problem nor does it even come close to reaching some of the most vulnerable among us: youth in rural low-income communities.

In my region of Appalachia, for example, there is practically no program taken to scale for young people. And Appalachia is not alone. There are regions around this country that are isolated from any of these pathways for young people to turn their lives around and provide for their families.

I was lucky to connect with a YouthBuild AmeriCorps program. When I graduated from high school, I worked as a security guard at a coal mine. With the decline of the coal industry, I was laid off without options. Everyone was struggling to find work. A friend connected me to YouthBuild, where I built the foundation for my future.  First, I studied to be a pharmacy technician and then went on to work myself into the middle class as a Medical Laboratory Technologist. After working a few years in the field, I realized that the most important thing in my life was to ensure that other people had the same opportunity I had.  I’m now in graduate school studying public policy.

Coming Together to Urge Action

On that September Day, when I and other members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign—some longtime advocates and others former Opportunity Youth like myself—met with Members of Congress on Capitol Hill, the question we received the most was, “How did you come together and why?” They were not used to meeting with so many individuals working across sectors on a single issue.

And it was the easiest answer: “This problem we face is bigger than any one of us.”

I have heard it said that politicians follow the wind: they go here and there, changing direction as the wind does. When we come together, when we stand united behind a common goal, we become the wind, forcing action. Our solutions come from a place of respect, love and positive movement, but we are determined.  And that’s why I’m filled with such hope for our future.

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Adam Strong is a founding Member of the National Council of Young Leaders and of Opportunity Youth United, a national youth-led movement to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America. He is currently working on his Masters of Public Policy from the University of New Hampshire.

#OYUvotes: Voter Registration Videos

By: OYUnited
Sep. 12, 2017

Thank you for sharing why voting matters to you on National Voter Registration Day in September! The 50-state holiday drew thousands of organizations and volunteers that worked to ensure that our family, friends, and neighbors are registered to vote.

Why does registering matter? States, cities, counties and towns have big elections coming soon. Primaries for next year’s state and national elections are fast approaching. It’s time to get involved no matter what party you support or which issues matter most to you.

The purpose of the #OYUvotes campaign is to uplift the voices of opportunity youth about the importance of voting and encourage all our members to register themselves and their peers to vote.

How Can I Get Involved?

Simple! Below are a action steps you can take to help us create a buzz!!!

1. Make a 30-second NONPARTISAN* video about why voting matters and why you vote. Share it via your social media networks using the hash tags #OYUvotes #whyIvote….. check out some samples in our YouTube playlist above.

2. Be sure you have registered to vote and urge your friends and peers to register, through the OYU website page (bit.ly/OYUvotes). Take a selfie or picture of people registering and share it to create buzz, using the hashtag #OYUvotes!

3. Check out our #OYUvotes Voter Challenge on Facebook!

You can also check the National Voter Registration Day website for more resources and ways to get involved!

WATCH the #OYUvotes Playlist

November 7th is an important day for key elections in many states. It is an opportunity for you to continue to use your voice to encourage friends, family and loved ones to register to vote. It starts with YOU. To start, verify your status and find your poling place here.

Then, share why voting matters to you using the #OYUvotes hashtag and invite a friend or family member to register to vote TODAY!

 

VOTE!


* Please keep your videos nonpartisan: the videos should focus on why voting matters and what you think about voter engagement, and can mention specific issues or causes. However, they should not mention particular candidates or parties, either in support or opposition.