Media Highlights

Three Dynamic Programs in Miami Connect, Inspire Youth

by Elizabeth Clay Roy   •  

We talk a lot about expanding educational access and career pathways for young adults. But nothing underscores their importance like the success of three dynamic programs we learned about this month during a visit to Miami.

At first glance, these programs couldn’t be more different. One takes place at sea and was launched by a passionate 21-year-old. Another is run by a large national nonprofit that works with local employers. And the third is a skills program operated by a global brand better known for its jeans than its job-training efforts.

But, as we learned at a community meeting we co-hosted on May 13, each program is designed to reach out and help young people who are at risk of dropping out of high school or who are not engaged in post-secondary education or working. These programs help youth find their path in our increasingly competitive global economy.

Opportunity Scholar Mike Long, 21, a student leader and environmental policy major at New College of Florida in Sarasota and captain of the college’s sailing team, combined his love for sailing and belief in mentoring in a unique way. Mike launched SailFuture, a nonprofit that matches young professionals with low-income youth who have spent time in the juvenile justice system, as Mike did. Together, the mentors and youth learn to sail.

As a product of the juvenile justice system, Mike takes great pride in his work with troubled young people. He was named the “Youth Success of the Year” by Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

These joint sailing lessons, Mike says, bond youth with their mentors and build the youths’ skills and confidence. They begin to believe that they, too, can succeed.

“They realize they are not stuck in the places they come from,” Mike said, “and they learn to respect themselves as well as authority.”

Mike was recently named a 2013 Truman Scholar, a competitive national scholarship given to top students who have a future in public service.

Luna Otero a the Community Compact Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami shared her organization’s School to Work mentoring model, a new program that brings youth into the workplace to shadow their mentors for 4 hours each month. Big Brothers Big Sisters tries to pair students at career-focused academies with related businesses and align these experiences with what they are learning in school. For example, students from a hospitality academy are paired with mentors from major major hotels.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has worked hard to get local businesses to participate.

“We meet businesses where they are and bring the young people to them,” Otero said. “We try to make sure we make good matches, because the match needs to last a long time to be most helpful.”

Charlene White, senior human resource manager for Gap Inc., oversees Gap Inc. for Community Colleges, a program tied to the White House’s initiative, Skills for America’s Future.

The program partners with 21 schools across the U.S., exposing high school and community college students to real-world business experience and preparing them for success with training in job searches, communication and time management.  The program has awarded over $200,000 in scholarships and has trained over 2,000 students. They took on this challenge to improve their own seasonal workforce and pipeline of managers.

“Building a partnership with an employer like a dating relationship,” White said. “Don’t give up… Cultivate it and make sure they are the right contact to maximize it.”

Regardless of which organization leads, these three programs represent multi-sector partnership at work on behalf of strengthening the workforce and helping young people identify and reach their professional goals. These three models are great because they bridge soft skills, industry specific aptitude and social relationships- all of which are important for career success.

Elizabeth Clay Roy

Deputy Director, Opportunity Nation

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