Think Make Live Hosts 4th Annual Civic Engagement Forum

Leaders at Think Make Live Youth take photos with attendees at the 4th Annual Civic Engagement Forum.

It’s important to actively confront an American culture that continues to disproportionately and systemically punish black and brown people across the country – from incarceration to portrayal in the media, and treatment at school. At last month’s 4th Annual Civic Engagement Forum on Ending The School To Prison Pipeline, hosted by Think Make Live Youth in Bexley, Ohio, a junior high student named Tremaine voiced that need and showed just how deeply these prejudices can run. “When a lot of people look at me, they look at me as crazy, they look at me as scary, they look at me as tough, as just a football player,” Tremaine said. “I want to be known more than that, I want to be known as the nice kid, I want to be known as the kid who actually knows how to excel in school.”

Taking place inside Bexley’s Capital University, the Forum amplified the voices of directly-impacted people and opportunity youth – young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or the workforce – and talked about potential policy solutions to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. Among the more than 120 attendees, nearly half of them were young people, and some of the invited speakers included members of the local halfway house and currently-incarcerated citizens. Early on in the program, members of the Columbus Community Action Team made sure to set the intention and emphasize their role as facilitators, educators, and mentors. “Our mission is to help provide a voice for youth by organizing, participating in, and educating in community service projects where we can strengthen relationships for our youth,” they told attendees.

To Think Make Live Youth’s founder, Terry Green, 31, driving this conversation is important to guarantee youth success. As a teenager, he met his first mentor in prison while serving out a four-year sentence. Angela Bryant, a sociology professor at Ohio State University-Newark, taught courses at the facility where he was held via the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program.

“She believed in me and gave me experience not only inside but outside,” Green says. Shortly after his release, he reconnected with Bryant. With her help and encouragement, he was encouraged to visit Ohio State University – not as a student, but as a presenter. There, Think Make Live’s ideological root was first articulated publicly. “First, you think good thoughts of change. Then you make a positive change of actions and live the lifestyle of being changed,” he told the students.

In the intervening years, Green’s organization has grown into many things: a social justice consultancy firm centered on youth workforce development, the lead organization for several local summits and workshops, and a separate community-based and youth-led nonprofit network called Think Make Live Youth. As a model mentor, Green has been able to attend dozens of presentations at organizations and schools, passing on his expertise and passion to professionals, advocates, and local officials.

Guest speakers talk about ways to intentionally face systemic racism encountered in the school to prison pipeline.

That collaborative mindset is within the organization, too. Founded in 2017, Think Make Live Youth was built to serve young people in the Columbus, Ohio area by creating a network of young professionals eager to learn and share resources. Now, Think Make Live Youth is primarily led by young people who advanced through the program. “Terry has a youthful heart and that’s what I love about him being my mentor,” Stacia Tabler, current President of Think Make Live Youth, says. “He’s actually giving roles to people and try to balance us out.”

Despite coming so far, Green hasn’t lost sight of the mentors that inspired him along the way, “[Bryant] gave me an opportunity to share my story. I survived homelessness. I watched my Mom get incarcerated and separated from my father. I was incarcerated for four years. But if I didn’t start this platform, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this,” he says.

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https://sparkaction.org/sites/default/files/sjstoneheadshot_0.jpgJamal Stone is a Digital Engagement Associate at SparkAction, where he helps strategize and execute on content-driven campaigns, with a focus on equity, opportunity and youth justice.  His writing has appeared in outlets such as Genius, Milk.xyz, and Broad Street Magazine, with a strong focus on how social justice intersects with art. More about Jamal.

Philadelphia 2019 Convening: Takeaways by Kimberly Pham

Sent as a newsletter from The Aspen Institute:

Aspen Institute

Aspen Institute

For our next and final post-convening reflection, we have collaborated with Kimberly Pham, a national activist and youth leader with Philadelphia-based Project U-Turn, and a member of Opportunity Youth United. Read below for her reflections and experience of the Opportunity Youth Forum 2019 Philadelphia Spring Convening, which took place last month from April 23-25.

Aspen Institute

Participants of the electrifying youth organizing and advocacy breakout session at the OYF Philly convening.

You were one of the moderators for the Philly youth advocacy and organizing session. What was your biggest takeaway during this session?

Kimberly: The energy in the room was vibrating, loving, and soulful. Soulful in the way that you just felt the energy in your soul. It was moving, inspiring, and authentic. The biggest takeaway from the session was seeing people engage with one another, learning new rituals to use in community, and seeing organizers begin to see the intersectionality in the issues they advocate and resist against. The idea and practice of liberation and freedom and how it shows up for us all through the different ways we activate our community is vital, relevant, and critical.

How did it feel for you to have the convening in your hometown of Philly? What did you want attendees to experience?

Kimberly: It felt like a long time coming. The great part about the OYF spring convening is that we are in community. Members of the collective get to be on the ground where action takes place, and it was exciting to have the collective in Philly, the place I call home. The OYF movement gives members the opportunity to learn and share directly our challenges, our practices, and opportunity to create solutions together while in community. I get to see the collective move as allies in other communities. It’s important not only that we convene, but we see how we support each other while we are together.

Aspen Institute

Kimberly Pham (right) with Yelena Nemoy of the Forum for Community Solutions.

What were the big themes that stood out to you during this convening?

Kimberly: A big theme for me that stood out was systems-reform and how does equity and justice show up in these efforts to reform systems that are damaged, drained, and disconnected. Philadelphia had the opportunity to showcase efforts in shifting culture with connecting systems of education, workforce, and criminal justice. It is important that these systems and individuals who have power over these systems understand that the common goal is to ensure that our Philadelphia youth are successful and can be contributors to this society, aside from falling short to disheartening statistics that these systems are all familiar with.

Aspen Institute

Youth leaders getting to work at the OYF convening.

Talk about a plenary or breakout session that inspired you.

Kimberly: A session that I was inspired by was the one that was led by Everyday Democracy. The session was deep! It gave you an opportunity to learn about how to move dialogue to action. We had the opportunity to actually practice this exercise on site. It can be very uncomfortable to have race-relation dialogues especially with people you never met before, but it gave me hope to see that we are willing to get uncomfortable. It means expressing we have privilege, even when we don’t want to acknowledge it. Sitting there and listening to someone without judging is important for us to be able to work in a movement that is trying to change the odds for our young people, families, friends, and community.

What are next steps for you after this convening?

Kimberly: Next steps for me are following up with organizers from my session to see how we can support each other’s efforts. Taking a moment to reflect on the journey to prepare for a new season with new reasons to go harder in the movement. Looking forward to building connections and relationships with OYF youth leaders and supporting their journey in this OY movement. Continuing the efforts of supporting the OYU & OYF partnership.

Thank you, Kimberly for your thoughtful answers!

We hope to see everyone at the Opportunity Youth Forum 2019 Aspen Fall Convening, which will take place October 28-30 in Aspen, Colorado.

 

OYUnited: Gearing Up for 2020!

OYUnited: Gearing Up for 2020!

“As part of planning for 2020, we started the process of revising our “Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America,” which will include input from the OYUnited Community Action Teams and Community Leaders.”

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter highlights the National Council Annual Retreat in Puerto Rico, the new Politics Leadership Academy’s first national convening and OYUnited Leaders joining CLASP to improve systems for Opportunity Youth. Additionally, this newsletter includes an application to become a Young People For (YP4) Fellow! For those who are passionate about making change on their campus or in their community, we encourage YOU to apply!

Read the full archived November 4 newsletter here.

OYUnited: Gearing Up for 2020!

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Members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign Meet with Senators to Urge Investment in Pathways to Opportunity

By Maharddhika

In its second year, the Reconnecting Youth Campaign has set a bold goal: build on the success of its inaugural year, which saw a $195 million increase in Congressional funds to programs that provide pathways to school, work and job training for Opportunity Youth. This year’s goal is to secure enough federal funding to reconnect one million Opportunity Youth—young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or the workforce—each year. (Currently, programs such as AmeriCorps, the service and conservation corps, Public Allies, YouthBuild, Job Corps and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe reach about 360,000 young people each year.)

On September 5, 2019, about 40 people from cross-sector partners and allies, including OYUnited leaders and members, gathered at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) office in Washington, DC. Among them were youth leaders from across the country who have been working in their hometowns to organize their peers and to build relationships with their Congressional Representatives to support this campaign.

Understanding the Situation and Solution

In the morning, young leaders gathered to learn about the appropriations process and about a range of policies that impact young people. Thomas Showalter, Executive Director of National Youth Employment Coalition, started the discussion with an update on the status of federal appropriations for programs that provide education, job training, counseling and community service for Opportunity Youth. Funding remains wholly insufficient. Strong and robust investments are needed to help reconnect 4.5 million Opportunity Youth. “Congress should be spending $4 billion more to serve the nation’s 4.5 million Opportunity Youth,” Showalter said.

There was also an opportunity to dig deeper into the federally funded programs and ask questions in smaller groups. Taimarie Adams, Government Relations Director of Service Year Alliance fielded questions on national service. Doug Ierely, Director of Advocacy & Policy with Youth Build USA, shared updates on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Brendan O’Hara, Deputy Director of National Jobs Corps Association, discussed Jobs Corps. The current economic and political climate has posed some challenges for Job Corps. For example, on May 24, 2019, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plan to terminate the U.S Forest Service’s long-standing operation of the 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, which provide essential job training to disadvantaged Opportunity Youth across rural America.

The meeting also covered intersectional issues like the green economy. The green economy represents one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. economy, offering a chance for policymakers, advocates, youth and industry leaders to rethink access to work, careers, innovation and opportunity.

Denise Fairchild, President & CEO of the Emerald Cities Collaborative drew the connection between the economy, the environment and equity. “Our young people are core to reshaping how America works, how it’s built and who gets benefit from it,” she said.

As one of strategies to raise the public visibility of these issues, young leaders learned how to effectively use social media to build awareness, amplify shared messages and calls to action, and inform and engage key stakeholders. The campaign hashtag is #ReconnectingYouth.

A Reconnecting Youth Campaign team on Capitol Hill

Hill Meetings: Connecting with Senators

After lunch (provided by Foodhini, a DC-based caterer with a social mission) and a training led by Opportunity Youth United founding member Shanice Turner, the campaign visited Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of 16 Senators: Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Neely Kennedy (R-LA), Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brain Schatz (D-HI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Boozman (R-Ark), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Christopher Van Hollen (D-MD) and Tim Tillis (R-FL).

In the meetings, Reconnecting Youth Campaign members shared the youth disconnection rate in the Senator’s home state, and what it would mean for the state’s young people and its economy if the campaign’s goals of increased funding were met. According to the latest Measure of America data, West Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas are the states with highest with youth disconnection rate (ranging from 15.1 to 17.0 percent of young people).

The teams had two calls to action for each Senator: First, increase funding for Opportunity Youth programs during this appropriations process. Secondly, help create a Congressional Opportunity Youth Caucus to champion the needs and contributions of Opportunity Youth.

In a meeting with Meghan V. Dorn, Legislative Aide to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Troy Johnson, an Opportunity Youth United local team leader from Mississippi, shared how YouthBuild, helped him at a crucial time in his life. YouthBuild also opened up opportunities to join other great programs, like AmeriCorps.

“Those programs changed my life from what I was to where I am now. Funding for these program help me a lot. It was the great real investment,” Johnson said.

In response, Meghan V. Dorn said, “Senator Lindsey O. Graham always been supported the AmeriCorps program. It has been a really effective in South Carolina. We have seen the impact. We have seen the great value in that.”

Members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign meeting with Sen. Moore-Capito’s office.

Helping former Opportunity Youth connect directly with Members of Congress has been one of the biggest factors in the Reconnecting Youth Campaign’s first-year success. The campaign and the local youth leaders are making sure the relationships continue to grow.

As one young leader explained during the convening, it’s a good idea to start building relationships before you need to ask for support for bills or funding. Also, the pre-election phase, when politicians are thinking about winning or retaining office, is another strategic moment to build relationships and negotiate needs.

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The Reconnecting Youth Campaign is a collaborative campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding 1 million pathways to education, training, national service and employment opportunities for Opportunity Youth, 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in school or work.

It brings together more than 40 organizations, including Opportunity Youth United, to call on Congress to invest more in the programs that work, so they can reach more of our nation’s 4.5 million Opportunity Youth. You can learn about the mission and members here. You can read the first-year report on the Campaign’s work and impact here.

 

 



Maharddhika is visiting fellow with the Forum for Youth Investment’s SparkAction initiative, through the U.S. Department of State’s Community Solutions Program. In his home country of Indonesia, he is a program officer for Association for Election and Democracy, and NGO based in Jakarta. He has experience in conducting advocacy research that supports marginalized groups’ right to participate in free and fair elections and to keep their sovereignty in democracy. He is passionate about civic education for young people to participate in various aspects of civic life: voting, volunteering, deliberating on issues and advocating for a cause.

“We’re All Human.” Here’s How to Remember that When Meeting with Elected Officials

By Adam Strong

The first time I met with a high-level policymaker, I was so nervous my neck actually went stiff. It was 2012, and I was meeting with then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, together with some of my fellow members of the OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders. For a moment, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to move.

So what did I do? I took a deep breath and jumped into the conversation. After a few moments of stumbling on my words, I found sure footing on remarks I prepared and practiced ahead of time. The more I talked, the less anxiety I felt about talking, I was soon able to take a sip of water without seeing the cup visibly shake during the meeting. I never felt completely comfortable or ready, but rarely does anyone ever feel completely ready for what they are called to do. All you can do is prepare and face it head on.

I still get nervous, but now in my roles working with OYUnited and CIRCLE, I meet with Members of Congress and their staff pretty often.

Our federal policymakers in Congress need to hear from us – we can meet with them in DC or at home, in “in-District” (or local office) meetings. Here are some the things I’ve learned that I hope will help.

Why Meetings Matter

Should you meet with your elected Representatives in your district? Yes. Here’s why.

Meetings work. Meeting in person with your local representative can be one of the most effective ways to build awareness of issues you care about and persuade your local representative to take action in the way that they can. Being from the community and being able to talk about your experiences and give local context to the issues and your stances can provide a new perspective or nuance to a particular position that is exactly what they need to make a firm decision on something.

They help you build relationships with decision-makers. Meeting with your local representative is a great way to begin building a relationship with their office. Members of Congress spend a lot of time in Washington, DC, but they are also home working several times a year. And their local staff are there all year long.

Being a community leader isn’t just about one moment, but often means you continually lead and step up for your community when needed. As new issues or legislation arise, you want to be poised to reach out to the local staff person and make your needs and positions, and that of your community known.

In your first meeting with staffers in your local office, take a moment to ask some questions and learn about who they are on a personal level. You can start to build a relationship with them, where they know who you are and the communities you represent. The closer your relationship is, the more honest, authentic, and nuanced conversations you can have with them.

Legislators need your voice and perspective. Lawmakers often look to their constituents to inform them on what matters to them and the community, however, few take the time to schedule a meeting and actually engage in a conversation with their office. This trend means that your in-person meeting can be even more influential and have a great impact.

You can learn, too. Legislative staff are often the experts on where their boss stands in terms of policies, issues, and new initiatives. Sometimes the quickest way to learn about a particular issue or emerging initiative in your community is to meet with your local legislative office.

How to Set up an Meeting – and Make it a Success

  1. Find out who your representative is. Use this tool (all you need is your address).
  2. Find the local in-district office contact near you, rather than the DC contact information.
  3. Contact the local office to schedule a meeting.
  4. Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a confirmed meeting right away. Local legislative offices often get flooded with requests, site visit invitations, and questions. Persistence and patience are key.
  5. Prepare for your meeting. Have an ask in mind. Whatever is most appropriate, it could be to support a bill, look into a matter, ask the representative to try to garner support of his colleuges, invite them to a community event, etc. Bring any materials you need or that you want to share with your member of congress.
  6. Share (with permission). Ask if you can share and thank them on social media. You can even ask if you can take a picture – and if they have a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account you can tag. Most of the time, they’ll be happy for you to share that. Tag their boss too.
  7. Finally: Thank them for their time! Office staff will likely give you their card. After your meeting, follow up and thank them for taking the time to talk with you.

Representatives and their staffers are people too, and as they say, “you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar.” Small acts of kindness goes along way.

If you feel nervous, it helps to talk to peers and get advice and suggestions, and to see meetings in action.

Here’s a video from some of our friends in California who recently met with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) at her local office in Oakland, to talk about the Reconnecting Youth Campaign and urge Rep. Lee to support the campaign’s call to invest in pathways to jobs, training and education. (Learn more about the Reconnecting Youth Campaign.)

Do you have any questions? Reach out to me!

We want to hear about your meetings. Email us with a summary of how it went. Send pictures! Better yet, tag @OYUnited and #OpportunityYouth in your social media posts.

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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 Summer Action!

OYUnited: Summer Action!

On July 24, 2019,  OYUnited Leaders Jamiel Alexander, Ryan Dalton, Shanice Turner, Lena McKnight and Yocasta Jimenez, presented at the JobsFirst NYC “Adapting to the Future of Work – Raising Youth Voices” event.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter provides more information on the “Raising Youth Voices” event, the latest OYUSpeaks podcast, local action from a few of our Community Action Teams and an upcoming creative contest for youth 13-24 hosted by Youth Engaged for Change (YE4C).

Read the full archived August 26 newsletter here.

OYUnited Summer Action!

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OYUnited: WE NEED YOUR VOICE!

OYUnited: WE NEED YOUR VOICE!

The National Council of Young Leaders of OYUnited developed the Recommendations for Increasing Opportunity and Decreasing Poverty in America as the basis for our movement.We are preparing to update the Recommendations for 2020. We are inviting input from all our members who are current or former Opportunity Youth.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter encourages YOU to send in your ideas on what needs to be added, changed, subtracted or emphasized in the 2020 Recommendations.

Read the full archived July 30 newsletter here.

OYUnited: WE NEED YOUR VOICE!

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OYUnited: Building Power Across the Nation!

OYUnited: Building Power Across the Nation!

“Eleven members of OYUnited’s National Council and local leaders met on May 8 with Commissioners Alan Khazei and Steve Barton of the National Commission for Military, National, and Public Service to present our recommendations on how to expand and improve national service for opportunity youth, and how to create innovative community-based initiatives within national service.”

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter includes latest news on OYU leaders, staff, National Council Members, partners and young people of several OYUnited Community Action Teams (CATs) in action.  Two recent events highlighted were the Spring Convening event in Philadelphia, PA and a two day design event in Boston, MA. Additionally, we are updated on local action in OYUnited’s NYC CAT and Sacramento CAT. Read the full newsletter for more information, tools and resources.

Read the full archived June 6 newsletter here.

OYUnited: Building Power Across the Nation!

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How I Carried on My Grandfather’s Legacy by Meeting with Rep. John Lewis

By Shanice Turner

Staffers entered the office buzzing and brimming with anticipation. The seating area was filled with people awaiting their meetings with Congressman John Lewis (D), the representative for the 5th Congressional District in Atlanta, Georgia, who’s known for being one of the most famous and courageous people within the Civil Rights Movement.

Daniel Rosebud and I were scheduled to have a meeting at 10:00 am with Mr. Lewis, and, as Mr. Lewis finished his other meetings we were able to sit down. Our meeting reflected around informing him of the work that we do in Atlanta with United Way, Opportunity Youth United and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign: Unleashing Limitless Potential. Daniel highlighted our association with United Way and how we have done many events within the Atlanta area and in District 6. We were excited to be sitting there and to have the chance to advocate for opportunity.

Shanice Turner, a member of OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders, met with Representative John Lewis as part of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign.

During the meeting, I was able to speak with John Lewis about my grandfather Eddie Mack Turner and share a story about how he had marchedwith a cane and a limpwith Fred Grey and Andrew Moore, the people who had introduced Lewis to Martin Luther King in the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. I never met my grandfather because he died one day before I was born, so being able to tell this story to Mr. Lewis felt like a victory. To make it even more special, the day we met was my Dad’s birthday.

Even though the morning seemed rushed, people were buzzing, and time is always short, John Lewis showed no need to follow suit. When we first entered the room to sit down, he was calm, cool, collected. We pause to greet him, and he seemed to slow the room down specifically to talk to us.

He told us that he knows and supports YouthBuild, along with Job Corps. In 2017 and 2018, John Lewis helped to support YouthBuild by working together with many of his fellow Members of Congress to reverse proposed budget cuts and actually increase federal funding.

He took special note of the challenges we have faced in carrying our messages to Capitol Hill. He said he has always been a champion and ambassador for our cause, and he and his staff remain committed. His enthusiasm and passion for our issues was clear.

It felt amazing to be able to highlight the work with Opportunity Youth, explain what a CAT (Community Action Team) is, and talk about why we need his continuous support for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, specifically, to invest in 1 million pathways to education, national service and job training for Opportunity Youth.

During this visit with John Lewis, however, it was clear that supporting us was not simply a signature on a document for him. He made it clear that he truly cares about providing support as our advocate, ambassador and champion. His staffers also seemed onboard with the goals of OYUnited and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign. It seemed like it really mattered to them.

I stood before John Lewis, taking my stance to increase federal dollars and opportunities for young people. I stood as my grandfather marched, protested, went to jail for equal rights and freedom for African Americans.

Being on Capitol Hill and talking with John Lewis was such an honor. I stood before John Lewis, taking my stance to increase federal dollars and opportunities for young people. I stood as my grandfather marched, protested, went to jail for equal rights and freedom for African Americans.

Even now, as I picture myself standing there, hearing John Lewis’ affirmation of the work that I am doing, it feels like I am continuing my grandfather’s work and legacy and in many ways, walking in his footsteps.

Shanice Turner is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders and a founding member of Opportunity Youth United. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she serves as grants manager and writer for Gate City Day Nursery. Shanice is equally passionate about child advocacy and creative pursuits like acting and voiceover work. More from Shanice (including video). 

National Youth Hiring Day

OYUnited: Opportunity Alert!

“With unemployment at record lows, American companies are looking for new ways to find and hire great talent. Meanwhile, there are more than 4.5 million young people in America who are out of school and unemployed—or roughly one in nine youth who are disconnected from our economy.”

This issue of OYU’s e-newsletter includes information on the National Youth Hiring Day! The National Youth Hiring day will provide tools such as; common inquiry forms, video résumés, virtual employer spotlights, one-on -one career coaching, and access to on-the-ground events.

Read the full archived May 10 newsletter here to learn more about OYU’s National Youth Hiring Day.

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