Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What It Takes to Connect Youth to Opportunities

Below is an excerpt from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates Disconnected Youth One-Pager. Throughout the month of April, DCAYA will post blogs examining the effects of disconnection and proven methods to reconnect youth to workforce and educational opportunities. You can download a printable version of the one-pager to share with others here


Despite recent attempts to dramatically improve public education, “roughly three out of ten American high school students do not graduate in four years.”[i] Of those who do graduate, one-third are unprepared for college-level academics.[ii] Moreover, “recent evidence suggests that students who eventually drop out of school “are doing so in earlier grades and at lower skill levels – some even too low to be able to take the GED.”[iii] 

Several factors contribute to youth getting off track before achieving a high school diploma. A history of poor academic performance, chronic truancy, negative school “push-out” policies regarding suspension and expulsion, pressing responsibilities at home, and/or the need to earn an income, are all causes of disconnection. 

In 2010, the city already claimed more than 4,500 TANF recipients between the ages of 18 and 25 and that number is likely to be much higher today.[ix] If we do not address the needs of these young people now, we condemn them to a lifetime of hardship and instability and a reliance on government benefits.

This issue is at a crisis level in DC. Young people who lack educational credentials and work experience are less likely to become self-sufficient adults, and in many cases these young people already have children of their own, exacerbating the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

  • In 2012-2013 only 64% of the city’s young people graduated high school within four years[iv] and college completion rates remained well below the national average.[v]
  • District youth struggled to find entry-level employment opportunities which serve as important foundations for lifelong success. Only 25% of 16–19 year olds and 68% of 20–24 year olds were currently working or actively seeking work in 2012.[vi]
  • Over 14,000 young people in the District (ages of 16 - 24) were able to be categorized as “disconnected youth”-meaning they were neither enrolled in school nor were they employed.[vii]
  • In a 2013 DCAYA survey, 60% of disconnected youth were trying to re-engage in school or had in the past, suggesting that they will make many attempts to get back on track. [viii]

  • Follow the example of cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago by consolidating access to information and services for disconnected youth at a re-engagement center in the District. In providing a “one-stop-shop,” disconnected youth gain access to well-trained staff that provides the latest information on educational programming options and workforce development training. At the same point of entry, disconnected youth can also be guided to the long-term, wrap-around services necessary to sustain reconnection including housing supports, childcare, and income or food assistance. 
  • Expand the capacity of non-traditional, alternative education and workforce development programs. Considering that the compounded factors that lead a youth to disconnect are likely to re-emerge in a traditional school or work environment, it’s critical to offer programming that prioritizes the incorporation of real-world context and a pathway towards long-term success. By continuing to undertake research efforts to ascertain where to build capacity within existing programs, while also soliciting the opinions of youth to determine their needs, policymakers will continue to “scale-up” successful programming within the system of reconnection. 
  • Improve data sharing between systems that young people disconnect from and programs currently serving disconnected youth. As the current system exists, youth might plug into programs in their efforts to reconnect, but very little of the information gathered on services and outcomes is shared system-wide. This leaves an information gap on “who” these youth are, what subpopulations are most high-risk for disconnection, and what programmatic approaches should be implemented system-wide as best practices. 
  • Support efforts that focus on long-term engagement and success. In order to sustain youth re-engagement, it’s important to support efforts that give youth the opportunity to “bridge” from one level of service to the next in their pursuit of long-term success. In connecting organizations and service providers to each other’s work, a comprehensive system of re-engagement emerges, and a clear path forward insulates youth from further disconnection. 
  • Establish formal mechanisms to solicit the opinions of youth. In addition to a commitment to collect outcomes data, the opinions of youth must be solicited to effectively tailor programming to their dynamic needs. The input of youth will inform program improvement, solidify best practices, and demonstrate how to replicate efforts across the system of re-engagement. 
  • Create a comprehensive system of disconnected youth service provision. A sustained and successful re-engagement effort hinges on communication and adaptability between the many programs, agencies, and organizations that serve disconnected youth. By agreeing to comparable indicators of success, establishing a network of referrals and shared resources, and sharing data about the dynamic population they serve, these entities will hone their understanding and ability to meet disconnected youth where they are.

[i] Youth Transitions Funders Group, Closing the Graduation Gap: A Superintendent’s Guide for Planning Multiple Pathways to Graduation.
[ii] Bridgeland, J., DiIulio, J., & Morison, K. (2006). The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises, LLC,
[iii] Youth Transitions Funders Group, Ibid; Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000-2005. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Youth Network, The Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania,; Planty, M., Provasnik, S., & Daniel, B. (2007). High School Coursetaking: Findings from the Condition of Education 2007. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics,
[iv] Office of the State Superintendent for Education. “Official Graduation Rates SY 2012-2013 “”
[v] TAG Data
[vi] Raise DC Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011 Local Area Unemployment Statistics, Accessed 04/20/13 at
[vii] American Community Survey, 2009
[viii] DCAYA, 2013. Connecting Youth to Opportunity. Retrieved from DCAYA website:
[ix] DC Deptartment of Human Services, Income Maintenance Administration, Automated Client Eligibility Determination System, TAN,F Recipient Adults by Sex and Age - FY 2011 

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates released a report in the Fall of 2013, "Connecting Youth to Opportunity." Youth focus groups and surveys were conducted to ask young people about the challenges they face leading to disconnection and the barriers preventing them from reconnecting. The full report can be found on the DCAYA website.

 For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Friday, March 21, 2014

The High Cost of Transportation: When Showing Up is Half the Battle

Whitney is an unassuming, quiet but friendly young woman who, like her peers, has earplugs in her ears more often than not.  But don’t be fooled by her appearances.  She is a very determined young woman. She is not yet 19 years old, but she is already a mother, working hard to move from transitional housing and dependence on TANF assistance to employment that will allow her to provide for herself and her child.  She earned her GED last September, but she knows to get a job that pays enough to sustain her and her child, she needs college and/or a postsecondary credential.  That’s why she’s enrolled in bridge-to-college classes at Academy of Hope.

When Whitney first enrolled at Academy of Hope, she was part of a DOES-funded GED program for youth that included a transportation stipend.  For Whitney, this meant that she could take the Metro from her transitional housing in South East DC to Edgewood Terrace near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro, where Academy of Hope’s Strive for Success classes were held.  It took about 45 minutes and cost between $2.05 and $4.10 each way. The cost, of course, depended on the time of day she traveled (peak times to get to school, non-peak to get back home) and whether she took a bus to school from the Rhode Island Metro or chose to take the 10-minute walk.  When funding for transportation stipends ended, Whitney’s commute to school became both a financial burden and a larger time commitment.  In order to save money, Whitney no longer rides the Metro. She takes a couple of buses and spends more than an hour traveling each way.  The trip costs $1.60 each way, which amounts to $3.20 a day, $12.80 for the four days of class a week and $16.00 a week if she comes in for tutoring on Friday.  The extra 15-20 minutes commuting each way adds more than a couple of hours a week.
To those of us with salaried jobs, whether middle wages or high end, $16 a week doesn’t sound like all that much money, but put it in context.  $16 a week is $48 a month. Whitney’s total income for the month is $336, which she receives through TANF.  A third of that goes to rent at the transitional house where she is living.  That leaves $216 for everything else, including food, diapers for the baby, clothing, personal hygiene, transportation, etc. for the month.  Whitney feels lucky because she’s healthy and her baby’s healthy, so she doesn’t have to decide between medicine and transportation. She is determined to get the education she needs for a better life for herself and her daughter.

There are other students who don’t have even the minimal income of TANF or supportive housing who struggle to meet their basic needs, who live even farther away from school or have more family members dependent on them. These students end up dropping out of school because they simply cannot win the battle of showing up to class. Providing assistance, such  as a transportation stipend or extending Kids Ride Free, will break down a major barrier that prevents non-traditional students, such as Whitney, from breaking the cycle of poverty. Whitney is making the commitment to show up to class and better her situation. Now it's the city's turn to ease Whitney's ride to school so she may continue changing her life not only for herself, but for child.

Patricia DeFerrari is the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Academy of Hope. Patricia works to ensure DC is a more equitable and prosperous city by speaking up for adults with low literacy. To learn more about the work done by Academy of Hope visit their website at

 For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Youth Voice - Youth Vote

Youth don’t vote. 
They don’t care.
They don’t know.
And they don’t matter. 
That’s the myth.  

It’s time to shatter that myth.


DC is in a crisis. The rate of individuals becoming homeless is skyrocketing: over half of the homeless families are headed by youth parents. Youth can’t get jobs: less than half of the city’s 20 – 24 year olds are able to find full time employment. Youth with jobs can’t afford housing: DC has lost more than half of its low-cost rental units and 72 percent of its low-value homes. The system is broken and people are suffering.

But if you listen to some politicians talk, they say the city is doing great. There are nicer restaurants, flashy retail stores, and more apartment buildings. Why do they only talk about this part of DC? Because they think only certain people vote.

The Democratic primary on April 1st is a critical election in DC. There are nine mayoral candidates running for a single Democratic ticket, then, the winner of the April 1st primary will face the Independent and Republican candidates on November 4th. Youth have the power to sway this election. They can have their voice heard by voting in the Democratic primary. So where do you start:

1.)    Register. You can register on the DC Board of Elections website OR look up your polling place and register day of. It’s simple.
2.)    Educate yourself. If you care about jobs, homelessness, etc., then we’ve got you covered. All Democrat mayoral, ward, at-large, and council chair candidates answered a youth survey we produced. You can compare the candidates’ answers on our website.
3.)    Educate your friends. If they live in this city as well, they have an obligation to vote, so tell them. Share the #ivoteDC video through social media, tell them about how to register, and debate about the candidates.  Be an advocate for your hot topic issues by sharing your knowledge with others. 
4.) Stay Engaged. Tweet at the candidates! Force them to get on your level, you’ll be surprised at how quickly they respond. We also want to stay engaged with you! Tell us @DCAYA why you are voting locally with the hashtag #ivoteDC. We’ll make sure to share!

5.) Vote. If you can’t get off work on April 1st, vote early. Here’s the info on how to vote early.
By the way, when we talk about youth, we mean ALL youth. So if you are young and just moved here and are wavering about whether or not to change your voter registration to DC, remember - you live here, you work here, you purchase your groceries here, you should be voting here as well. As a community member, you have the obligation to vote for what is best for you and your neighbor.

So we hope to see you via Instagram & Twitter at the polls April 1st! #ivoteDC

Because your vote is your voice, so let it be heard.

Katie Dunn is a policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. Along with advocating on behalf of homeless youth and expanded learning programs, Katie  works on voter and candidate outreach. If you would like to get in touch with Katie you can follow her on Twitter at @kdunntweets or email her at

 For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Friday, March 07, 2014

Against All Odds

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates will post captivating, moving, and educational testimonies throughout the Performance Oversight and Budget hearing season. To watch the full hearings visit the DC Council website:   

 Expanded learning programs provide youth with opportunities to grow outside the classroom. Whether through the arts, sports, science, entrepreneurship, etc., out-of-school time programs allow youth to explore interests not offered during a standard school day.

This is the simple way to explain expanded learning. DCAYA members such as Life Pieces to Masterpieces, Kid Power Inc, BUILD Inc, People Animals Love, Sasha Bruce, Brainfood, FLOC, and many others across the District know that their expanded learning programs do so much more.

The youth our members serve are succeeding in these programs against all odds:

This point is especially important because one major funding stream for DC’s expanded learning programs is through the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp, or the Trust. The Trust was created to ensure that District youth had consistent access to high quality youth development programming. One way the Trust accomplishes this mission is by offering competitive grants to youth-serving Community Based Organizations (CBOs). Last year the Trust budget mark remained consistent at $3 million, but over the course of last year due to an infusion of public investment through the One City Initiative and the Center for Excellence in Youth Development the annual budget ended up being much closer to $8 - $9 million. This is great and puts the budget mark on par with comparable cities such as Baltimore. But last minute funding changes can have some draw backs. Watch Maggie’s full testimony.

As Grant Elliott, the program director of Kid Power Inc, explained in his testimony at the Trust Performance Oversight Hearing, “While greater funding for the Trust would greatly be appreciated, the consistent distribution of funding could certainly be improved upon.” Kid Power Inc was one of the CBOs which benefited from the $3 million infusion through the One City Summer Initiative. However, the funding came so late that Kid Power Inc had just days to plan, hire, recruit youth, and implement a summer camp for 75 young people at Miner Elementary School. Watch Grant Elliott’s full testimony.

Data collection and consistent funding are two necessary aspects to ensuring quality programming for youth who need it most. The Trust has greatly improved upon its data collection efforts, but there needs to be a clear and consistent annual funding level to strengthen the Trust and its grantees' operations. We considered, and still do, consider the $3 million One City Summer Initiative funding a win for our members and the city’s young people. We also realize, however, that time crunched, over-stretched CBOs are extremely limited in providing the best programming possible when their funding levels are in flux.

There are phenomenal programs operating across DC and our youth, who may have had so little in the past, deserve the best. Join us in asking the Mayor to budget $9 million to the Trust on the front end, so programs such as Life Pieces to Master Pieces, Sasha Bruce, and Kid Power Inc can continuing doing what they do best, providing exceptional expanded learning programming to youth who are succeeding against all odds.

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates testifies at all youth related hearings and you can too! If interested and have questions please contact Angela Massino at DCAYA will give you the tools you need to make your voice heard by the DC Council! View calendar of hearings here

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at