Mecklenburg County, North Carolina is my home. It is the place where I had my first dance recital, the place where I spent countless hours at the YMCA, and the place where I graduated high school. Growing up, I never questioned whether I would go to college. Yes, in the fourth grade I certainly had no idea what university I would attend or what I would study, but the goal was very clear: after high school, I would go to college.
But what about those who may not have the opportunity to attend college, or simply may not want to? What about the youth whose dreams, goals, and opportunities were deferred because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Finding a way to positively reach these individuals is at the heart of Carolina Across 100’s Our State, Our Work program. and has been an ongoing discussion in our anthropology course.
The desire to support young adults, and more specifically the local community organizations working to support this population, was also at the heart of a course offered at UNC during the 2022-2023 academic year. The course paired students with community partners participating in the Our State, Our Work program, allowing students to engage with a wide range of organizations and provide expanded capacity to their work.
Along with my student partner, I got to work with Men of Destiny— a nonprofit organization that focuses not only on developing youth with vocational and professional skills, but also introducing them to positive leadership experiences. Their motto is “Collaboration Over Competition.”
Unfortunately, organizations are sometimes in competition with each other. This can be for funding, staffing, attention, or other forms of support. However, Men of Destiny holds the belief that by working together the community needs can be more effectively addressed. In working with the team, I learned two important keys in the non-profit sector: a passion for the mission and effective collaboration.
During the year, my student partner Jordan and I were tasked with three main support projects: developing an educational contact sheet, creating a social media strategy plan, and finalizing the organization’s one-pager.
The educational contact sheet comprised of the thirty-one schools across both Mecklenburg and Cabarrus County, where Men of Destiny is located. For each school, we developed a list of contacts which included the principal, vocational education instructors, career development counselors, and career and technical educators. With “Collaboration Over Competition” at the center of the organization’s project work, we were able to identify schools that are in touch with opportunity youth and are actively working to help through career development and other technical programs.
As we worked on creating a social media plan, our goal was to determine effective platforms where the organization could build its community and share its impact. While we found that social media may not be the best way to directly engage with opportunity youth, its platform can still be an effective tool to promote the mission of the organization and inspire positive action in our community.
We must ask youth the question Men of Destiny once posed to me: How do you see yourself impacting your community? As communities continue to work to support opportunity youth, I had the opportunity to experience real-world examples of how collaboration and conversation can be at the center of change.