Helping young adults in Fairfield County to “Thrive by 25”
Apr 19, 2016
Originally appeared on CT Post Blog
On January 9th, 2016, more than 200 teens and young adults from across Fairfield County came together at Sacred Heart University for the first annual Thrive by 25 youth summit. What made this day of learning stand out from any other?
First, it was driven by young people. Shaped by a panel of youth ambassadors, the summit offered workshops and presentations designed to offer youth between the ages of 16 and 24 practical strategies for achieving self-sufficiency. From interview preparation and networking tips to building a personal brand, the summit’s content was designed “by youth, for youth.”
Second, this inaugural event brought Fairfield County one step closer to a bold goal we’ve embraced: to offer all youth an opportunity to thrive by age 25, regardless of family income, school district or zip code.
The challenges (and the opportunities) facing our youth
Today, there are 100,000 young people ages 16 to 24 living in Fairfield County. One in eight are unemployed — the 15th highest rate in the nation. Each year, 800 students drop out of Fairfield County high schools. And 81% of those dropouts say they would have stayed in school if they felt they were learning relevant life skills. How can we do a better job of connecting the dots and show students clear pathways to success?
While the environment may seem challenging, it also presents fertile ground for change. Research shows that by supporting young people as they transition from school to the workplace, we can increase their odds of adult success. And by aligning young people with local employers, we can retain the middle-skill jobs that make up 43% of Connecticut’s labor market, while giving our youth access to good wages and pathways for career advancement.
Building pathways to success for young adults
Last fall, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation formally launched the Thrive By 25 initiative, a program that aims to build pathways to success for young people. The framework for this initiative is built on collaborative relationships, involving the entire community. This includes:
- Partnering with youth. To succeed in supporting young people, we need to truly understand their challenges and invite them to be part of the solution. Through our Thrive by 25 Ambassador program, teens and young adults serve as advisors for strategies to help youth earn degrees, find work experience and identify avenues to meaningful careers.
- Partnering with employers and educators. Employers need qualified workers; educators aim to give students the tools to succeed. Working together, it’s possibly to identify skill gaps, create new internship programs and support workforce development programming. We’re beginning this work through Pathways to Careers Fairfield County, a new program that connects young people to on-the-job training with a clear path to long-term employment.
Investing in our shared future
For Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who spoke at our Thrive by 25 summit on why it’s critical to reduce the burden of student debt, it’s clear that investing in our young people is critical for our shared future.
“For the strength of our communities, families and our economy, it is vital that we find ways to ensure all young people have the education and support they need to excel in meaningful careers,” said Blumenthal. “Thrive by 25 is about young people supporting their peers in achieving their educational and career goals — a powerful model that I am proud to support.”
Turning Fairfield County into a place where young people can thrive by age 25 won’t happen overnight. But as donors, professionals and community leaders, we all have an opportunity to lift up our community by supporting young adults at the intersection of jobs and education. Everyone can play a part, no matter our role.
How can you help secure the future of our county? It starts by looking around. Can you hire a young person? Make a connection? Spread the word? The opportunities are countless when we gather around a common vision.
As a trusted nonprofit partner and thought leader, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation brings together community organizers, business experts and philanthropists to solve our region’s challenges. Our goal is to create a vital and inclusive community, where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Learn more about the Community Foundation’s “Thrive by 25” initiative.