The Corps Network and Partners Host Congressional Briefing on Postsecondary Success Strategies for Opportunity Youth

The Corps Network and its partners Jobs For The Future, National Youth Employment Coalition, YouthBuild USA, Brandeis University, and Miami-Dade College held a congressional briefing on Postsecondary Success Strategies for Opportunity Youth on Wednesday. This session provided a setting to share the success, design, and implementation of the Post Secondary Success Education Initiative (PSEI), which was completed in 2013.

The PSEI was created in 2009 to help connect Opportunity Youth to college and postsecondary education. The Corps Network joined the initiative in 2012. Using the “Back on Track” model, this initiative funded national youth development organizations and community-based organizations that would make it possible for disconnected youth to acquire a high school diploma or GED and necessary academic skills to make the transition and complete their postsecondary education or training. Taking place in Brooklyn, New York; Waukegan, Illinois; Miami, Florida; Oakland, California; and San Rafael, California, this initiative had participant success rates of 55% enrolled in postsecondary education with a 74% rate of persistence through 2+ semester (data from The Corps Network). More information about PSEI can be found here.

Speakers at Wednesday’s panel spoke about the design of Postsecondary Success Strategies, how to best implement them, and how federal policy intersects these issues. Speakers included Terry Grobe (Jobs for the Future), Alan Melchior (Brandeis University), Scott Emerick (YouthBuild USA), Mala Thakur (National Youth Employment Coalition), Capri St. Vil (The Corps Network), H. Leigh Toney (Miami-Dade College), Alex Nock (Penn Hill Group) and Jennifer Brown Lerner (American Youth Policy Forum). Tyler Wilson, Director of Government Relations for The Corps Network, moderated the briefing.

Panelists spoke about the success of the initiative, citing the partnership between Community Based Organizations and youth development organizations as a fundamental element of the program. PSEI “brings together community organizations who serve the same people but haven’t talked to each other” said Alan Melchior, Associate Director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Youth & Communities at Brandeis University. “This partnership goes two ways, strengthening both partners and cultivating a ‘college-going’ culture in our communities” said Mala Thakur, Executive Director of National Youth Employment Coalition.

At a federal policy level, postsecondary success (PSS) closely ties into the themes of innovation, partnerships, college/career readiness, and increased college access and persistence, which are priorities in the development of the Higher Education Act reauthorization. PSS bridges the gap between a high school diploma/GED and postsecondary opportunities, while helping to ensure persistence through the difficult first year. “An end goal for the administration is career advancement so there is a focus on college and career readiness. Programs [such as PSEI] are now savvy about documenting what works and their successes so we are now ready for policy discussions” said Jennifer Brown Lerner, Deputy Director at American Youth Policy Forum.

The early data for PSS is promising and points to an effective model for re-engaging Opportunity Youth in education and the workforce. We would like to thank the Open Society Foundations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their generous support of PSS. We would also like to thank all panelists for their contributions to the briefing and support in Postsecondary Success Strategies. 

[Video] AmeriCorps, Youthbuild, and Youth Conservation Corps Featured on PBS Broadcast for American Graduate Day

On Saturday, we were proud to watch several of our young spokespeople represent AmeriCorps and us on PBS's nationwide broadcast of American Graduate Day. 

Germain Castellanos, a Corps Network 2005 Corpsmember of the Year and a former member of Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) in Waukegan IL spoke about his AmeriCorps experience, as well as Jamiel Alexander, one of our good friends from Youthbuild and the National Council of Young Leaders. They were interviewed by Wes Moore, a former U.S. Army Captain who is a youth advocate, best-selling author, and now hosts "Beyond Belief," a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The segment also includes a short video about AmeriCorps' Education Service Corps.

Watch by clicking here or on the image above.

Boiler Plate: 
On Saturday, we were proud to watch several of our young spokespeople represent AmeriCorps and us on PBS's nationwide broadcast of American Graduate Day. Watch the segment on AmeriCorps here.

Powerful Speeches Delivered at YouthBuild's 25th Annual AmeriCorps Conference of Young Leaders

A YouthBuild member shows off his moves at a Talent Show. 

Earlier this week I was very excited to attend a segment of YouthBuild's Conference of Young Leaders. For the uninitiated, YouthBuild is a series of youth development programs that "work to unleash the intelligence and positive energy of low-income youth to rebuild their communities and their lives."

Numerous partners of YouthBuild, including The Corps Network, were invited to watch as nearly 30 Youthbuild members competed for 8 elected positions on Youthbuild's Youth Leadership Council. Candidates gave short 2 minute speeches highlighting their backgrounds, the role YouthBuild had played in improving their lives, and why they wanted to be on the Council. 115 delegates from around the country attend the Conference, and so the audience was filled with supportive peers and mentors. Some YouthBuild members are even part of Service and Conservation Corps where YouthBuild programs also operate. And while the time each candidate had to speak was short, I found that there was an incredible amount of passion, authenticity, and inspirational messages interwoven in what they each had to say.

Here are some of the great quotes that I wrote down among all of the speeches (and my apologies if some of these I recorded with some minor variations! Rapid fire inspiration is sometimes hard to record quickly when spewing forth like a river busting through a dam):

"We want to show this country we aren't losers. We're leaders. We're not menaces. We're ministers."

"You are who you are based upon your actions not how you look."

"This is your chance to make a difference in your life."

"Without Youthbuild there's so much I could be into that's not positive."

"Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean construction jobs are just for men."

"Service means a lot to me and it's a big part of who I am."

"YouthBuild took me out of a dangerous river where I wasn't building bridges for future generations."

"I'm already a member of the Youth Leadership Council even if there isn't an official spot for me."

"I promise to lead myself to the top leaving no one behind."

"I want to be that domino effect where one person helps another and it keeps going."

"One of my biggest dreams is to build my mom's first home from the ground up."

"If the rural [community] doesn't speak up, our problems won't get fixed."

"In this world we are all atoms, full of energy."

"As Frederick Douglas said, 'without struggles comes no progress.'"

"A lot of people say you can't turn a prostitute and drug dealer into a housewive, but here I am... I feel like I committed adultry because I'm married and I'm also in love with YouthBuild."

"No dejes para maniana lo que puedas hacer hoy / Leave not for tommorow what you can finish today."

"Education is a great equalizer."

I express my congratulations to all of the candidates for having the courage to run and tell their deeply personal stories to what was essentially a large room of strangers. I also am glad I did not have to vote, as there were clearly many, many worthy candidates for those 8 spots on the youth council. Thanks also to YouthBuild for the invitation to participate in this inspirational event!

Corpsmember Success Story: American YouthWorks Alum Builds on the Skills he Learned in the Corps


Taken from the American YouthWorks Newsletter

"American YouthWorks does a lot to help people, in all kinds of ways."  Jeremy M.

Jeremy already has his high school diploma when he came to American YouthWorks (AYW) in 2010, but he was 22 years old, had a two-year-old daughter, and was living in his car. He had been unemployed for over a year.

Jeremy’s grandmother, who had raised him and his siblings, was unable to help him financially. Jeremy also had issues in his past that made it difficult for him to find employment or housing.    

He was at a loss.  

People would tell me that they wanted to hire me, but they weren't able because of my background checks. No matter what I did, I always got the same answer."  

A friend told Jeremy about AYW's job training programs.  In these programs, participants learn hard and soft job skills, give back to their community, earn a small living stipend and receive an educational award for college expenses.  Jeremy applied and was accepted. He was relieved to have found a job and ended up learning and serving at AYW for almost two years.  

Jeremy credits AYW for giving him the job skills and life skills that have helped him be successful today.  

"The staff want to make sure the students have the foundation to thrive," said Jeremy

During the “Mental Toughness” orientation to AYW, Jeremy was told that the hardest part of the job would be showing up every day and being on time; this made a big impression on him and he learned that he could do it.  He acquired skills in carpentry, house framing and construction.  He also learned to be patient, observant, responsible and detail oriented.  

"Details in building a house are extremely important,” said Jeremy. “An error of 1/8th of an inch could mean the difference between finishing the cabinets, or having to tear them down to start all over again."  

Most importantly, Jeremy learned that he was a leader.   

While he was learning construction skills, Jeremy was improving his community by building affordable, five star, energy efficient homes for low-income home buyers and weatherizing and repairing existing homes for low-income Austin residents.

During his time at AYW, Jeremy earned educational awards totaling nearly $4,000 and was honored with a $2,000 scholarship from YouthBuild USA for his leadership and public service.  These awards, along with encouragement from AYW staff, made all the difference in Jeremy's choice to pursue higher education.  

"I wasn't planning on going to college.  AYW helped me make that decision,” said Jeremy.  

Jeremy says that when he first came to AYW, he was just coming for the job, but he received so much more.   Today, Jeremy is in his 5th semester of classes with Austin Community College and working full-time for the City of Austin's Public Works Department.  

Now, Jeremy has choices.  

When asked who Jeremy goes to for advice, he replied, "AYW! Even though I'm not in the program anymore, the staff are who I come to for support and guidance".  

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Tyler Rose

(Written in 2011)

Tyler Rose dropped out of high school his senior year. He was not engaged and only had a short distance left to go. But life was complicated for Tyler, who was also about to become a father.

After getting his GED with YouthBuild USA, a program that also helps young people gain construction skills, Tyler joined the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). As a new member of CREC’s Energy Conservation Corps (ECC), Tyler received additional skills training through Coconino Community College, earning certificates in Workplace Readiness, Introduction to Energy Auditing, Energy Basics, and Construction Safety. While learning how to weatherize and safely seal homes, Tyler also improved his speaking skills by going door to door passing out educational flyers.

These positive experiences helped Tyler realize that he wanted to make a career out of his green construction skills and energy efficiency knowledge. He dedicated himself to the work and spirit of the Conservation Corps. For example, when a major flood hit the Flagstaff area, Tyler volunteered beyond his normal work days to go to resident’s homes and help them lay sand bags to secure their homes from imminent flooding.

Near the end of Tyler’s term, his eagerness to learn and work hard was rewarded. He was promoted to the position of Crew Co-Leader. As a result of his hard work and the recognition that followed, Tyler was able to make connections within the community and secure himself a permanent job as an energy auditor with E-3 Energy, a local green energy company. Tyler says it’s “the best job I’ve ever had.”

Tyler is now working hard to become certified as a Building Performance Institute Certified Building Analyst. Once certified, Tyler will be able to perform building energy audits independently and advance within his current company.

In the long-term Tyler says he would be happy to become the owner of a green energy company or simply advance within the company he currently works for. While he says that being the single father of a 3 year old can be challenging, he’s happy with the progress he’s made on a green career pathway and takes pride in the fact that he’s making the world a better place—one house at a time.