Media Highlights

WIOA In Action: The Work Force Youth Program

by Sabrina Y. Gonzalez   •  

Creating Pathways to Success Through Connected Learning

The team at The Cambridge Housing Authority’s (CHA) The Work Force youth program (TWF) in Cambridge, Mass. is excited that after years of delay, the $3 billion-a-year Workforce Investment Act passed Congress by overwhelming margins this summer as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). We believe that several of the key changes to this critical program advocated by Opportunity Nation’s Coalition will enable us to better serve teens and young adults, particularly those who are struggling in school and are at risk for dropping out.

These funds, combined with financing from CHA’s Moving To Work (MTW) designation, help support our after-school educational enrichment and work-readiness program for low-income teens who live in Cambridge public housing. These monies support young adults during a critical five-year period – 8th to 12th grade – and help them prepare for the transition to high school and post secondary success in college and beyond.

Operating out of four sites, The Work Force has no performance-based criteria for admittance. The only requirement is that students live in Cambridge Housing Authority properties and have a desire to commit time and energy to bettering themselves. The program’s mission is to foster the personal and professional growth of teens in public housing by helping them gain the competencies they need — at home, school and work —to create their own pathways to educational and economic success.

Our program is able to meet the needs of 210 youth each year, and provides individualized case management to students who are identified as having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) through WIA. These additional supports help them overcome extensive barriers to educational success and employment. With increased federal funding we hope to receive, TWF will be able to better serve a larger cohort of WIA-based students.

In the early 1980’s, The Work Force piloted a holistic model of support for teens designed to help them gain vocational skills and receive high school diplomas. Since then the program has adapted its approach to the changing needs of young people. Over the past 30 years, TWF has evolved to focus on enhancing participants’ college and post-secondary success in several ways. These include: improving family engagement; increasing academic supports; and introducing a Matched College Savings Initiative to allow youth to reach their full potential.

Through strong community ties The Work Force has collaborated with local businesses, nonprofits and colleges including:

  • Cambridge Public Schools, which provides both financial support and a collaborative approach to student support and data sharing;
  • Tutoring Plus, which offers students tutoring from young professionals;
  • The Gap, Inc., which provides a retail training program called This Way Ahead;
  • The Boston College PULSE program, which provides mentorship and academic tutoring by BC students;
  • Harvard University, which provides both after school and summer jobs to CHA youth;
  • Matched College Savings plans with Cambridge Savings Bank and The Midas Collaborative. These enable students and families to save money for college and have it matched dollar for dollar, up to a $1,000.

With changes included in the proposed WIOA, TWF will be able to pursue even greater collaboration with colleges and local employers and better serve youth. Our dedicated and caring staff has built a strong culture of positive family engagement, connection to committed mentors and role models, and a focus on developing valuable life, academic and employment skills. In an environment where adults are addressed by first name, students find comfort in knowing our staff provides them with the support they need to overcome life’s obstacles and reach their goals. We all must work together to ensure more low-income youth build strong relationships with caring adults and have access to meaningful education and career pathways.

With continued funding and adaptations to the Workforce Investment Act, TWF will continue to improve the futures of the young adults we serve.

Sabrina Y. Gonzalez

Sabrina is Teacher-Counselor for Cambridge Housing Authority's The Work Force Youth Program. She is passionate about expanding opportunity to youth because without access to opportunity, young people lose hope and are not able to develop the skill set and tools they need to reach their full potential.


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