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Providing a Helping Hand to Young Americans in Need of a Purpose

Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation awarded a $2 million multi-year grant to the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions (the Forum) to help infuse belonging, purpose and meaning into the Forum’s youth-focused initiatives. The Forum promotes collaborative, community-based efforts that build the power and influence of those with the least access to opportunity, allowing communities to come together to expand mobility, eliminate systemic barriers and determine solutions to challenges.

The Forum is a national leader in youth programming, focusing on improving the economic, health and well-being outcomes for Opportunity Youth – young adults 16-24 who are engaged in neither work nor education. There are currently at least five million such young people in the U.S., and their lack of access to education and work comes at great personal cost and long-term social and economic costs to society.

With Opportunity Youth being a priority, the Forum’s largest initiative is the Opportunity Youth Forum (OYF). Launched in 2012, the OYF is a network comprised of more than 40 local collaboratives in urban, rural and tribal communities across the U.S. that seeks to build and scale reconnection pathways that achieve better outcomes in education, employment and overall well-being. Nearly one million Opportunity Youth live in OYF communities across the U.S. and the collaboratives are composed of nonprofits, agencies and governments, working together to transform systems to connect all 16–24-year-olds to meaningful work and school.

Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness show the ongoing need for mental health services, especially among young people: one in six U.S. youth experiences a mental health disorder each year, and 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14.

“Thanks to new investments from partners like the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, we’ve been able to deepen investment in Opportunity Youth communities by deploying strategies to accelerate and scale systems improvements leading to better outcomes for youth and young people, including those in Atlanta and across Montana,” said Geneva Wiki, director of Belonging, Meaning, Well-Being and Purpose, OYF. “Our vision is that in ten years, our society will fully embrace and value youth and young adults in every respect, including supporting all youth, particularly those most excluded from opportunities, to have equitable access to education and employment.”

Opportunity Youth collaboratives face complex challenges that require innovative and multi-faceted solutions. A recent OYF national assessment report identified four interconnected challenges the collaboratives face. Challenges include the impact of COVID and natural disasters, leadership and staffing transitions, funding and resources, and political context and climate. By addressing these challenges, collaboratives can work toward creating more inclusive and equitable opportunities for all young people.

Local collaboratives offer a range of programs and resources to address education and workforce disconnection. Collaboratives participate in innovative partnerships with local businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies to create opportunities for education and workforce development in the community. These programs and resources are designed to address the various barriers that individuals may face in accessing education and employment opportunities and to help them succeed in the workforce.

Programs and resources offered by OYF collaboratives include:

  • Education-to-Career Pathways: opportunities for work-based learning, such as internships or apprenticeships, to provide hands-on experience and enhance job readiness
  • Youth Organizing: a holistic approach to youth leadership development, civic engagement and advocacy that prioritizes healing, well-being and empowerment
  • Career Counseling and Guidance: career counseling and guidance to help individuals explore different career paths and make informed decisions about their education and future
  • Skills Development: workshops and training programs to develop essential skills such as communication, problem-solving and digital literacy
  • Education and Training Programs: programs that help individuals acquire the skills and credentials needed for in-demand jobs
  • Job Placement Services: job fairs, networking events and job listings
  • Financial Assistance: scholarships, grants and tuition reimbursement programs
  • Support Services: childcare, transportation assistance and counseling
  • Entrepreneurship Programs: programs to support youth entrepreneurship and help individuals start and grow their own businesses

Thanks to the work being done by the Forum and OYF, young people will have power over the forces that impact them and will lead the charge in creating the futures they desire. As the U.S. observes Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the foundation is proud to support this work and its positive effect on America’s youth.

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