According to the Aspen Institute, nearly 40% of U.S. youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are weakly attached or unattached to school and work at some point during that formative stretch of their lives. And the same holds true locally. When Valley of the Sun United Way met with local leaders to gain insights into our community’s most pressing needs, these young people, often referred to as Opportunity Youth, rose to the top.
As part of MC2026, our five-year plan for Mighty Change in Maricopa County, one of our seven mighty goals is to:
Increase the number of youth aged 16-24 who are engaged in education and employment opportunities by 38% by 2026.
Since so many of today’s family-supporting wage jobs require some kind of training or credential beyond a high school degree, it’s vital to these young people, their families, employers and our entire community that we work together to keep them connected, or reconnect them, to school or a job.
However, barriers such as homelessness, family instability and poverty can seem insurmountable. That’s where Valley of the Sun United Way comes in. We bring together an array of nonprofit, school and business partners to work together to remove barriers and open up access to the tools, mentoring and resources to meet immediate needs and put them on a long-term path to a career.
One of those partners is New Pathways for Youth, a nonprofit whose aim is to help youth become contributing members of society, of their community and of the workforce. Achieving this isn’t simple or quick. The young people they serve experience a high level of poverty and have experienced four times the childhood trauma than their peers.
With the support of our donors, New Pathways for Youth builds a web of support that creates Mighty Change for youth.
Take Briana for instance. An unstable home environment seriously impacted her emotional and mental health. She couch surfed at her sister’s place and struggled to stay motivated in school, going through periods of time where she didn’t do schoolwork at all.
New Pathways matched Briana and her mentor Robin. Alongside Robin, Briana turned all this negativity into a driving factor for change. Over four years in New Pathways programs and working with Robin, Briana made tremendous strides, discovering a renewed positive outlook on life.
She completed her high school credits and has now graduated! Briana has gone from couch surfing to getting her own apartment, is enrolled at Phoenix College pursuing a career in communications, and is actively seeking employment. Her mentor Robin provided tremendous support throughout this entire journey and continues to be a part of Briana’s life.
Briana and other Opportunity Youth are the future of our community, and it takes all of us to create the kind of change – Mighty Change – to help them achieve their goals.