Youth Opportunities Unlimited
Youth Opportunities Unlimited’s Impact Programs improve at-risk youth’s commitment to education while preparing them for jobs in the real world.
Y.O.U.’s Impact Programs Live Up to Their Name
In the high schools where Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) operates its job-and-life skills “Impact Programs,” the graduation rate is often as low as 50 percent. But among the inner-city students participating in Y.O.U.’s programs, that rate has soared to 81 percent. And 60 percent of these high school grads go on to college while 70 percent land jobs.
According to President Carol Rivchun, two key practices have contributed to Y.O.U.’s effectiveness. The first is a group comprised of two staff and volunteers assigned to each student. “Every youth has a Career Coach, an Employment Specialist, and business volunteer mentors,” Rivchun explains. “The Career Coach is a paid professional who meets with students in small groups and on-on-one twice per week and focuses on helping them remove the barriers they may have to success in school and life.” For one student, that might mean getting matched with an algebra tutor, for another it might mean getting counseling for problems in the home. Rivchun says, “We’re helping teens to develop the skills, the resilience, and the persistence they need.” The Employment Specialist calls on Y.O.U.’s extensive network of employers to identify job opportunities for participating youth. Businessmen and women volunteer in the program to teach students about real-world work and how to succeed on the job, provide mock interviews and assistance with resumes. They are able to help students make the connection between the classroom and the workplace, thus increasing youths’ motivation to stay in school.
The second is Y.O.U.’s innovative “Youth Career Olympics.” This annual competition gives students in the Impact Programs opportunities to show off what they’ve learned in terms of the employability skills they’ve studied. Students compete in 11 different events such as public speaking, telephone communications, job application completion, and interviewing and all events are judged by local business persons. Winners receive gift cards and trophies. Y.O.U. invites numerous businesses to the event and these firms set up booths so that competitors can make connections to potential employers. Last year roughly 200 students from Cleveland areas high schools participated.