The Oakland-Alameda County Opportunity Youth Initiative (OYI) is a partnership between organizations that acknowledge the assets and strength of Opportunity Youth, a group too often viewed as lacking. Urban Strategies Council convened this initiative in 2015 around a unique funding opportunity from the Aspen Institute that would support greater collaboration amongst organizations serving Opportunity Youth.
Opportunity Youth is a term used to refer to young people, ages 16-26 who are either out-of-school and/or out of work. Opportunity youth are inclusive of different types of young adult populations including transition age and crossover youth. Many opportunity youth were, and some might still be foster youth, growing up without a stable environment or family support. Many have direct and indirect ties to the criminal justice system, and some, along with their parents and family members, have been impacted by incarceration. Our best estimate is that there are over 20,000 opportunity youth in Alameda County.
OYI operates as a collective of organizations that supports the holistic well-being of youth and young adults. From stabilization services, job-training, case management, education support, and mental health support, these organizations recognize that the livelihood of Opportunity Youth in Alameda County depends on the collaborative’s members to work together to support pathways to self-sufficiency.
Too often, opportunity youth are depicted from a deficit model; they are never viewed as the assets that they truly are. In our Opportunity Youth Initiative space, we have been working with the Greenlining Institute, Alameda County Health Pipeline Partnership, and PolicyLink to engage health sector employers, encouraging them to understand the assets of opportunity youth as suited to the healthcare industry. Opportunity Youth have to perform a constant balancing act, making tough decisions as a means to survive. For some, this looks like choosing to go to work over eating because there isn’t enough money for both transportation and nourishment. Other times it looks like going to school, going to work, taking care of siblings, raising a child, and taking care of an ill parent, while still an adolescent. This learned ability to manage a full plate in one’s personal life and also perform at work are what make opportunity youth highly qualified for the healthcare workplace.
Although challenges that opportunity youth face are often spoken about, rarely do we uplift the voices of opportunity youth themselves. To this end we are working with Angela Zusman of Story for All to facilitate a process whereby opportunity youth are able to relate their personal experiences along with the need for crucial policy changes, to help them have successful futures. The Opportunity Youth Initiative and partners are working steadfastly to uplift the voices and assets of opportunity youth as well as advocating in favor of collective impact and effective collaboration. We believe in our youth.