With the establishment of D.C.’s first Re-Engagement Center approaching this fall, DCAYA and our community partners have a growing interest in the need to align a robust re-engagement system to the frontline work of the Center. A few weeks ago, DCAYA and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region brought together national experts in youth re-engagement for a virtual, interactive Vonvo discussion with D.C. community providers. The experts were Andrew Moore, Robert Sainz, and DC’s own Celine Fejeran. The discussion highlighted three main takeaways.
All of our guest experts touched upon the importance of trusting relationships in the success of strategies to reconnect youth to educational, workforce, and wrap-around service opportunities. Echoing the findings of our 2013 Connecting Youth to Opportunities Report, Robert Sainz emphasized the importance of approaching reconnection efforts by first recognizing that each young person has a story and a particular set of needs. When adults invest in those individual youth stories through mentorship, coaching, or case management, both parties benefit. Adults gain a clearer understanding of which packages of services will best fit that young person’s goals, skills, and needs. Youth gain a trusted resource of support through challenges, guidance in setting goals, and a safety net in the case they veer off-track. In considering national best practice, the exact model of this adult:youth relationship can vary, but the panel of experts stressed that it remains key to successful re-engagement.
Second Chance Systems
Our Vonvo conversation also underscored the practice of building second chance systems around the needs and demands of youth, which necessitates cross-sector collaboration and diverse stakeholders. While a young person might be most strongly motivated to seek support in order to attain employment to support themselves and their families, in many instances they lack the levels of educational achievement to find self- and family-sustaining work. In response to the simultaneous needs for youth to learn and earn, Celine Fejeran spoke of the decision within the District to house our first Youth Re-engagement Center at the Department of Employment Services in order to streamline youth access to work opportunities and educational re-engagement. Another critical advantage of cross-sector collaboration is the ability to gather data across various agencies to gain clarity on the specific circumstances of each young person’s experience that stymie sustained engagement. As Andrew Moore mentioned in our conversation, this shared data about which young people have left school is also the best starting point from which to launch youth outreach efforts to connect them back to opportunity.
Our last key takeaway was focused on the need to encourage a symbiotic relationship between re-engagement centers and the communities they serve. This applies to the ability of a re-engagement center’s youth outreach specialists to simultaneously build relationships with youth and strong connections to a wide array of wrap-around services. Los Angeles and Denver are excellent examples of where this has been done well. On the flip side of this relationship is the opportunity for the influence of the re-engagement center to reach the youth’s friends, families, and caregivers. If a re-engagement center can build these relationships as well, then the success of the re-engaged youth will have ripple effects throughout their communities.
Overall, the national experts and community providers agreed that this is an incredibly exciting and critical time for re-engagement efforts in D.C. We all must stay invested and involved in the upcoming implementation of D.C.’s first ever re-engagement center. We may not get a second chance.
Watch our Vonvo discussion here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6LpZEg98ZA (full length)
Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. She’ll be meeting with youth providers this summer to discuss how to best link their programming with the District’s citywide plans to re-engage youth. If you’re interested in these meetings, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.