GO YOUTH: Reinforcing Education and Career Pathways for Youth in Greenville, MS

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

GO YOUTH: Reinforcing Education and Career Pathways for Youth in Greenville, MS

In the United States, there are an estimated 6.7 million young people who are out of work and out of school, called “opportunity youth.” In Washington County, Mississippi, home to the city of Greenville, there are an estimated 3,000 of these opportunity youth — half of the county’s population of young people ages 16-24.

Many of Greenville’s opportunity youth are young men of color. In order to break generational cycles of poverty, the Foundation for the Mid South has developed a comprehensive effort across our four priority areas that addresses the academic, career and social challenges facing males of color. The challenges of prevalent unemployment and underemployment are daunting. However, by supporting quality education and guidance towards academic and career achievement, we can improve pipelines to success for males of color to conquer disparities.

Building Pathways for Youth

The Greenville Opportunity Youth Initiative in Greenville, MS, is working to improve academic and employment outcomes for youth from ages 16-24 who have become disengaged from education and the workforce. The Greenville Opportunity Youth Initiative (GO YOUTH) is a collaborative effort across four organizations to support opportunity youth across the Mississippi Delta.

GO YOUTH Partners:

  • Foundation for the Mid South
  • Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE)
  • Mississippi Delta Community College
  • Rural LISC

Foundation for the Mid South supports GO YOUTH in part through the Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative, which convenes health care, manufacturing and workforce sectors while also providing funding and technical assistance to local programs. Rural LISC works to push the GO YOUTH agenda forward, build the collaborative and convene the partners.

MACE and Mississippi Delta Community College both act as grassroots partners through programs that directly support and interact with opportunity youth.

This collaboration was formed to address the challenges facing opportunity youth. “We’re connecting the dots,” said George Miles, program director at Rural LISC, “[Organizations are] funded, but for whatever reason they’re not necessarily reaching the youth. Part of the function of GO YOUTH is to reach people where they are at the grassroots level and get young people back into education and workforce pathways.”

Through this partnership, GO YOUTH has already strengthened the pipelines for opportunity youth, allowing for new opportunities for them to obtain degrees and find employment.

Fostering Role Models in Community Leadership

The YouthBuild program, supported by Mississippi Action for Community Education, helps youth work towards their GED while learning valuable job skills and participating in community service and leadership training. In addition, YouthBuild features individual counseling and support groups for participants. Youth leadership and initiative are vital elements within GO YOUTH. The youth leadership committee, housed at MACE, represents opportunity youth at national meetings and allows youth voices to play an integral role in the decision-making process.

YouthBuild’s youth council president, Kendrick Webster, gained leadership skills as a participant in the YouthBuild program.

In this position, Kendrick has stepped up as a leader and role model not only for youth, but for his coworkers at the Dollar General distribution center.

“It challenged me because I had to take on roles that I’ve never done before,” said Kendrick, “I had to make good decisions and learn how to be a leader.”

Kendrick sought the council after seeing youth around him dropping out of school, which sparked his desire to create change and get his peers back on the right track.

“It’s really important to have an education,” Kendrick said, “I see a lot of young people and people that I grew up with dropping out of school, getting into trouble, going to jail and getting killed. I don’t want [to see that happen.]”

Kendrick hopes that his example, along with other positive role models in the community, will encourage and inspire his peers to finish their education and work hard. In fact, Kendrick wants to attend college to pursue an education degree to become a teacher or coach.

The Future of GO YOUTH

While past efforts might have worked independently of each other, data sharing is an important element of GO YOUTH. Partners collaborate in evaluation and assessment. GO YOUTH will continue building pathways to support opportunity youth in school and the workforce and recording, analyzing, and sharing the results.