Shifting Power to Youth in Re-Engagement Practices
Goodwill’s Re-Engagement Centers have pivoted during the pandemic to increase engagement and persistence in employment and educational opportunities for young people in Pima County. These connections alone are not enough. Fostering deeper connections to supportive adults and peers have made the environment at METRO/REC more supportive and relevant to them in these complicated times. Goodwill’s model of hiring former Opportunity Youth to serve as Youth Outreach and Engagement Specialists for their programming has proven benefits for not only the new employee but also newly enrolled youth seeking assistance with re-engagement.
The roles of the youth specialists vary but include duties such as assisting with street outreach, conducting youth intake and enrollment, and building a sense of belonging and trust through engagement activities.
Over the last year, four youth specialists were hired and are developing workforce readiness skills while co-leading youth-focused projects and participating in leadership and professional development opportunities themselves. Lance Meeks, the Senior Program Manager at Goodwill METRO/REC, explained the impact of hiring former Opportunity Youth in these roles.
“Young people that come in are more at ease. Representation matters. Youth feel comfortable to seek out help when they see young adults that look like them,” Meeks said. “With their own experiences and connections, youth specialists are empathetic to situations that they themselves may have faced. It also motivates them that this could be a role for them one day.”
Because of their roles, youth engagement specialists have an opportunity to share with young people their personal and professional experiences as they help them navigate their own re-engagement pathway. Youth specialists are trained to be culturally responsive, reinforce positive racial identity and create a sense of connectedness among enrolled METRO/REC youth.