Education | Employment

Primed for Success: Collaborating to Re-engage Opportunity Youth

by Jasmine Johnson and Abigail Holdsclaw, ncIMPACT Initiative

January 23, 2024

Catch up on data, resources and insights shared at the Statewide Summit on Re-engaging Opportunity Youth

On November 29, 2023, the Carolina Across 100 team hosted North Carolina’s first-ever statewide summit on Opportunity Youth at the UNC Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The event, titled “Stories Brought to Life” served as both the culminating event for the “Our State, Our Work” program and as an opportunity to share all that the 13 cross-sector collaborative teams learned and accomplished during the 18-month program.

The event was attended by nearly 300 people from across the state, including elected officials, educators, nonprofit professionals, and service providers. In celebration of the work done across the state, “Our State, Our Work” teams and affiliated youth were recognized by multiple leaders in the education sector, including former UNC Chancellor Kevin Guziewicz and the North Carolina Community College System President Jeff Cox.

The summit served as a testament to the power of collaboration, bringing together state and community leaders, sector professionals, and local advocates to share insights and celebrate progress. It transcended organizational boundaries, emphasizing that only through concerted efforts across various sectors can a community-wide and lasting impact be made on the lives of Opportunity Youth.

As the curtains closed on the event, optimism provided by success stories, collaborative efforts, young adults’ lived experiences, and recognition from education leaders lingered in the air. The summit not only celebrated the teams’ accomplishments but also laid the groundwork for continued collaboration, ensuring that the momentum generated would pave the way for sustained initiatives aimed at empowering and re-engaging Opportunity Youth throughout North Carolina. The first-ever statewide summit on Opportunity Youth set the stage for a future where stories come to life through collective action and shared commitment to a brighter, more inclusive tomorrow.

The work of re-engaging North Carolina’s Opportunity Youth will take the commitment and dedication of many. We hope that some of the insights and takeaways from the event will inspire you to join in this work with us. Visit our website to find resources for learning more and getting involved and to find local OSOW teams located near you. For further assistance, reach out to Abigail Holdsclaw.

Advice from Opportunity Youth

Even in a room filled with hundreds of experts, leaders, and advocates, the most powerful and influential voices at the summit were the young adults who discussed their varied challenges, shared their hard-fought successes, and offered advice to communities seeking to better support Opportunity Youth.

At the heart of the summit was a compelling panel of young adult speakers who actively participated in the “Our State, Our Work” program. These Opportunity Youth, having traversed the challenges of disconnection, brought forth a wealth of experiential knowledge. By sharing their stories, they offered a nuanced understanding of the struggles and triumphs associated with re-engaging with education and employment.

The summit not only aimed to raise awareness but also provided attendees with actionable knowledge and motivation to continue the important work of supporting Opportunity Youth. By centering the voices of those who have experienced disconnection firsthand, the event empowered participants with a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent in re-engaging disconnected youth. Offering this unique perspective also contributed to a more inclusive and supportive landscape for young adults seeking to overcome significant challenges and reconnect with education and work.

Youth panelists discussed how Opportunity Youth are often unfairly stigmatized as lacking ambition or a strong work ethic.

Sienna Harnett, a youth panelist from Western North Carolina, emphasized the need to challenge these preconceived notions. She offered, “There are many misconceptions about youth who are disconnected from education and work. People think they do not want to work hard, but that’s not true.”

This statement encapsulates the overarching theme of the summit – understanding barriers, challenging stereotypes, and fostering a more accurate understanding of their many aspirations and capabilities.

Throughout the day, participants were reminded that young adults who were previously not working or in school are in the best position to understand the types of support that can help young adults overcome significant opposition to re-engagement. The challenges they face are diverse and complex. Rather than creating programs meant to reach Opportunity Youth and retroactively asking about their effectiveness, include young adults in the creation of programs, and empower them to take on leadership positions.

Beyond dispelling myths, the summit also tackled the crucial topic of resources. Opportunity Youth often face barriers in accessing educational and employment resources. The panelists shared their insights on the types of support systems that proved instrumental in their journeys. From mentorship programs to skills development initiatives, the discussion highlighted the importance of tailored resources that address the specific needs of disconnected youth. Some examples include transportation, childcare, and mentorship.

In an era dominated by digital connectivity, the role of social media in youth engagement cannot be understated. Panelists explored the impact of social media platforms in reshaping narratives and providing a platform for Opportunity Youth to share their stories. The summit emphasized that by leveraging these online spaces, we can build more supportive communities and amplify the voices of those who have successfully re-engaged.

Keep Learning

Find the summit agenda, resources, panelist information, event photos, a program recap video, earned media, and more on our event site.