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Graphic by Opportunity Fellows showing a young person at the top of a moutain perhaps contemplating their next step

Editor's note: The only thing harder than being the parent or guardian of a young adult who, for whatever reason, has become disconnected from school or work, is being the young adult who is struggling. In this guest blog based on a social media campaign they created, the Opportunity Fellows, a project of The Greater Houston Opportunity Youth Collaborative offer resources and encouragement to support youth and young adults who find themselves in that situation. It is also an must-read for parents, caregivers and anyone who works with youth and young adults.

If you are a young adult disconnected from school or work, there are resources that can help connect, guide, and support.Hello!

We’re a group of Fellows that has been in residency with the Greater Houston Opportunity Youth Collaborative (GHOYC) over the last six months. During that time, we have been learning how to hold community conversations, growing our facilitation skills, and learning more about how we can use these skills to support Opportunity Youth.

You may be asking, “What is Opportunity Youth?” Opportunity Youth are people between the ages of 16 to 24 years old disconnected from work or school. This is a vital time in a young person's life and can be referred to as emerging adulthood. Emerging adulthood is a developmental time period where the foundation is often  set for young adults to do well educationally, professionally, and spiritually into adulthood. Disconnected from school or work, youth and young adults are more likely to become isolated,and confused with their journey, lack stable housing, or experience crisis. And, without access to training or education these challenges only become harder.

In this article, we will explore a series topics as part of our final project with GHOYC. We decided to do social media posts to reach a broader audience and spread information about  the challenges Opportunity Youth face.  And, share resources available for youth and young adults experiencing disconnection. We hope you find this blog educational, inspirational, and encouraging, and we hope it will spark new questions and motivation within you to learn more about, and support, Opportunity Youth in your area.

To learn more about Opportunity Youth in the Houston area, and the work being done to support them, please read this report by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. 

Breaking Down BarriersAbout 4.3 million youth are disconnected from work & school in the U.S. Disconnected youth are nine times more likely to drop out of high school.

Did you know?

About 4.3 million youth are disconnected from work and school in the United States.

Disconnected youth are nine times more likely to drop out of high school.

There are more non-traditional students now than ever before, thanks to accommodations that allow students to follow through with their education.

Reconnect with School. 

  • Career Online High School with HCPL is a completely FREE program at HCPL. You can earn an accredited high school diploma and career certificate online at your own pace. Learn more 
  • Free information resources and learning tools at HCPL include LinkedIn Learning, Learning Express, DigitalLearn.org and many more. Learn more
  • Lone Star College holds GED classes free of charge in both English and Spanish. Learn more

Disability Is Not Inability

Youth who are not working or in school are three times more likely to have some kind of physical or learning disability. Many schools or jobs are not accommodating. Disability is not inabilityDid you know?

Youth who are not working or in school are three times more likely to have some kind of disability. Many schools and jobs offer little or no accommodation to people with a disability and, at times, seclude and punish those members of society.

There are organizations that advocate for people with disabilities. Some support the transition for individuals between high school and post-secondary, a time when many fall through the cracks. Others are support groups that allow members to support each other as well as implementing a transition plan between high school and post-secondary.

If you are a youth or young adult impacted, learn more about your rights and these resources.  

Disability Right Texas: Education

The Arc of Harris County: Support Groups

RespectAbility: Education Resources on Disability Issues

If you are a staffmember or leader working with young adults, learn more about supporting young adults across the ability spectrum with these resources:

Department of Health & Human Resources: Resources for Youth with Disabilities, Families, & Professionals

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act): 

RespectAbility: Education Resources on Disability Issues

Melanin MattersBlack teens & young adults have the 2nd highest disconnection rate followed by Latino young adults. Minority youth are often underrepresented and not given the proper tools to succeed outside of the classroom setting

Did you know?

Black teens and young adults have the second-highest disconnection rate, 17.4%, followed by Latino (12.8%). “Disconnected youth are more than three times as likely to have a disability of some kind than connected young people.”

Minority youth are often underrepresented and not given the proper tools to succeed outside of the classroom setting. With the cultural, educational, and environmental difference often placed upon Black and Latino children in the United States, the education system often writes their academic struggles off as behavioral or developmental issues.

In collecting stories, some of what we’ve heard is:

“I was taught that my dyslexia was a symptom of Blackness. That ‘Black people can’t read.’ That was something suburban schools had taught me so well. That I would never be as well as them.” - Mykah Scott 

As young adult, David Whitfield, asks, “How can schools be more inclusive?”

Schools can become more inclusive by:

  • Initiating diversity programs and education.
  • Acknowledging and providing equal testing opportunities for children with disability and educational challenges.

Some resources to check out are

Normalizing conversations about race and implicit bias” -EducationWeekly

National Black Disability Coalition

KIT (Kids Included Together): Inclusion Resources

Poverty Amidst a Pandemic

Amidst the pandemic, millions of disconnected youth were left without a form of stable income to help keep them balancing above or on the poverty line.Did you know?

Almost one-third of disconnected youth live in a poor household. They are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as connected people.

How has the COVID 19 pandemic affected these disconnected youth living in poverty?

Weforum.org shares these stats.

  • The share of Americans living below the poverty line increased by 1 percentage point, to 11.4%, according to [the] U.S. Census Bureau. Those at the bottom of the economic scale were hit much harder by the coronavirus recession and are finding it harder to bounce back.”
  • “In another sign that low-income workers were hit the hardest in 2020, 53% of all jobs lost were held by workers earning less than $34,000 per year.”
  • “Amidst the pandemic, millions of disconnected youth were left without a form of stable income to help keep them balancing above or on the poverty line in the midst of a global pandemic.”

What are possible solutions?

  • Workforce training
  • Affordable vocational training programs
  • Education on government workforce programs available
  • Financial literacy training

If you are a young adult looking to reconnect, here are a few resources

Workforce Solutions - With 27 Full-Time career offices and 10 Part-time offices across the region, the staff at these locations help people find jobs, keep jobs or get better jobs. Workforce Solutions offers job search and job matching assistance, career counseling and financial aid for education/training or work support.

Texas Virtual Schools - Offering tuition-free, nationally-accredited, personalized education tailored to the needs of each student and their families, with full access to top-notch educational resources.

USA.gov: Government Benefits

Everfi - Free financial literacy and education resources 

If you are an organization that wants to know more, here is a resource.

World Economic Forum (weforum.org) - Article: Covid-19: this is how many Americans now live below the poverty line

Connect with Youth Fellows and Learn More

Opportunity Youth continue to be  in a very vulnerable place. As this series comes to an end, we hope we’ve highlighted the disconnects  created that disadvantage Opportunity Youth, and, some resources  available to those youth and young adults impacted.

If you want to find out about more resources, or how to plug into Opportunity Youth work going on in Houston, visit https://acamweb.org  or email iloyuk@acamweb.org

About the Greater Houston Opportunity Youth Collaborative

GHOYC is a multi-stakeholder initiative that works across sectors, industries, and systems to create positive outcomes for young adults ages 16-24 disconnected, or at the risk of disconnecting, from education and career pathways. A successor of the Bridges to College and Career Success Program, GHOYC is the next natural step toward informing, connecting, and coordinating organizations to create pathways for youth and young adults toward a fulfilling and abundant life. 

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